Camembert Day

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Yesterday’s Google Doodle — big hat tip to Benita Bendon Campbell — honored the legendary inventor of Camembert cheese, Marie Harel. From the Google site:

Marie Harel’s 256th Birthday: If not for Marie Harel, born April 28, 1761, brie might have no gooey counterpart. Harel, who’s credited with creating the first camembert in 1791, is said to have encountered a cheese whisperer at the Normandy manor where she worked as a dairymaid. According to legend, a priest (purportedly from the region of Brie) took shelter at Beaumoncel near Vimoutiers during the French Revolution, and he shared his secret for making the now-famous soft-centered cheese. Harel added her own signature, packaging the cheese in its iconic wooden boxes.

Like brie, camembert is made from raw cow’s milk, but without cream. The cheese is yellow in color, with an earthy aroma, creamy taste, and an edible white rind. Today, only camembert made from unpasteurized milk receives the designation Camembert de Normandie. The village of Vimoutiers, home of the Camembert Museum, boasts a statue of a cow — as well as one of Harel, who made such a delicious contribution to French cheese culture.

Our Doodle celebrates Harel’s 256th birthday with a slideshow that illustrates how camembert is made, step by step. [The slides above depict the early stage of écrémage ‘skimming’, and the final stage of emballage ‘packaging’.]; It’s drawn in a charming, nostalgic style reminiscent of early 20th-century French poster artists, such as Hervé Morvan and Raymond Savignac.

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Morvan posters for Gitanes cigarettes

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Savignac poster for Pschitt sodas by Perrier (onomatopoetically named)

A longer account from Wikipedia:

Camembert is a soft, creamy, surface-ripened cow’s milk cheese. It was first made in the late 18th century at Camembert, Normandy, in northern France.

The first camembert was made from unpasteurized milk, and the AOC [appelation d’origine controlée] variety “Camembert de Normandie” is required by law to be made only with unpasteurized milk. Many modern cheesemakers, however, use pasteurized milk for reasons of safety, compliance with regulations, or convenience.

The cheese is made by inoculating warmed cow milk with mesophilic bacteria [thriving in the mid range of temperature], then adding rennet and allowing the mixture to coagulate. The curd is then cut into roughly 1 cm (1/2 inch) cubes, salted, and transferred to low cylindrical camembert molds. The molds are turned every six to twelve hours to allow the whey to drain evenly from the cut curds; after 48 hours, each mold contains a flat, cylindrical, solid cheese mass weighing generally 250 grams (about 9 oz). At this point the fresh cheese is hard, crumbly, and bland.

The surface of each cheese is then sprayed with an aqueous suspension of the mold Penicillium camemberti, and the cheeses are left to ripen for a legally required minimum of three weeks. This affinage produces the distinctive bloomy, edible rind and creamy interior texture characteristic of the cheese. Once the cheeses are sufficiently ripe, they are wrapped in paper and may be placed in wooden boxes for transport.

History: Camembert was reputedly first made in 1791 by Marie Harel, a farmer from Normandy, following advice from a priest who came from Brie.

However, the origin of the cheese known today as camembert is more likely to rest with the beginnings of the industrialization of the cheesemaking process at the end of the 19th century. In 1890, an engineer, M. Ridel, devised the wooden box which was used to carry the cheese and helped to send it for longer distances, in particular to America, where it became very popular. These boxes are still used today.

Before fungi were understood, the color of camembert rind was a matter of chance, most commonly blue-grey, with brown spots. From the early 20th century onwards, the rind has been more commonly pure white, but it was not until the mid-1970s that pure white became standard.

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Then there’s the camembert vs. brie issue. From the POPSUGAR site, “Brie vs. Camembert: What’s the Difference?” by Anna Monette Roberts:

While both brie and camembert are cow’s milk cheeses, are soft-ripening, and have a white, flowery rind, the two aren’t interchangeable. So the next time you are at the store and must choose between brie or camembert, here’s what you need to know.

Production: During the cheese-making process, cream is added to brie, but in camembert, it is not; as a result, brie is 60 percent milk fat, while camembert is only 45 percent. In addition, camembert uses stronger lactic starters that are inoculated into the cheese mold five times, contributing to a stronger-flavored cheese. Brie’s lactic starters are only put into the cheese mold once, therefore the cheese is milder.

Outer appearance: The diameters of brie and camembert cheese molds are different.

Inner appearance: Brie tends to have a whitish inside, while camembert has a deeper yellowish color. A very ripe camembert will have runny insides; most versions of brie in America, however, are stabilized, meaning the cheese’s center will have a firm texture that will never turn runny.

Smell and taste: Brie has a light, buttery scent and flavor with a salty finish. Camembert can be on the funkier side and smell earthy and barnyard-y like mushrooms or hay, with an intensely savory, umami flavor.

Affinage: Brie is made to be consumed immediately. While Americans tend to eat cheeses on the younger side, in France, most will practice affinage, or the art of ripening cheese, and will wait for six or eight weeks before cutting into a wheel of gooey, ripened camembert.

Or: you could read the label.

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