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Fears in France that Camembert truce will lead to cheese ruin

A truce has been reached to bring an end to the Camembert wars that have plagued one of France's most pungent cheese for a decade, but some say the quality of the famous fromage will never be as good.

Fears in France that Camembert truce will lead to cheese ruin
Photo: AFP
A decade-long war over France's famous Normandy Camembert cheese was brought to and end this week but not everyone is welcoming the peace.
 
The David and Goliath dispute pitted independent producers of the official AOP standard Normandy Camembert against big industrial cheese producers like Lactalis.
 
The small producers had to stick to strict production rules to be able to put the prestigious AOP (Appellation d'Origine Protegé) label on their cheese that designates it is produced in a certain way from a specific region.
 
AOP Camembert producers crucially had to use unpasteurized milk, 50 percent of which had to come from Normandy cows grazing in Normandy fields.
 
But big producers didn't like those restrictions and used pasteurized milk from any kind of cow. As long as the factory was in Normandy they could simply put the label “Made in Normandy” on the round box with the aim of confusing customers.
 
And it appeared to work, with some 60,000 tonnes of “Made in Normandy” Camembert sold each year compared to just 6,000 tonnes of AOP label Normandy Camembert.
 
But these games will soon be a thing of the past.
 
 
By 2021 there will be just one Camembert from Normandy, an announcement by France's institute of origin and quality (INAO) revealed on Thursday.
 
It means an “upmarket move for everyone,” said the INAO, adding that the agreement will also give consumers “more transparency” and improve the quality of dairy herds in Normandy, their grazing conditions and cheese making at large.
 
The producers have agreed to the massive and controversial step of allowing a cheese to be called an AOP Normandy Camembert if it is made with pasteurized milk in future rather than lait cru. This will allow manufacturers to export it.
 
However as a kind of compromise they will also have to make sure that 30 percent of the milk used to make the cheese comes from real Normandy cows grazing in the region. 
 
“This agreement will put Normandy cows back in the Normandy meadows,” Patrice Chassard, chairman of a national cheese authority told AFP. 

 
However some say that the shift in regulation is playing right into the hands of industrial producersat the expense of quality.
 
French cheese association, Fromages de Terroirs, has claimed it marks the “death of AOP” — or Protected Designation of Origin — and will see quality “sink inexorably into mediocrity”.
 
 
“The AOP standard is being relaxed, I would even call it a renunciation of the values ​​of the standard,” president of the association Véronique Richez-Lerouge told L'Express.
 
“What Lactalis dreamed of in 2006 has been offered on a silver platter: the possibility of manufacturing an industrial Camembert with pasteurized milk within the rules of the AOP. The reality is that we gave the keys to the Lactalis AOP!”
 
In a bid to answer those critics, the new AOP standard will allow for the adding of a “special mention of value” to the label if the Camembert has been made with unpasteurized milk.
 
But Richez-Lerouge believes consumers going for the cheaper option will in reality mean only one type of Camembert will be produced in future.
 
“Only one AOP Camembert will be sold, the cheapest, the pasteurized one. This means the death of the intermediary operators like Gillot, the last large independent producer. It is a strategy to isolate and smother authentic Camembert,” she added.

 
READ ALSO:
Best Briehaviour: A guide to French cheese etiquette
Photo: Thomas Liasne/Les Filles à Fromage
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FRANCE EXPLAINED

Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

Whether it's Christmas dinner with your French in-laws or a meal with some new friends or neighbours, after you have been in France for some time you will probably be invited for dinner in a French home - so what should you expect and what manners do you need to know about? 

Apéro to digestif: What to expect from every step of a French dinner

In France, like every other country, manners and formalities vary – where you are in France, the age of the people you are socialising with and the social setting will all have an impact – some families are very formal and traditional while others are more casual.

Naturally the occasion matters too – a formal state dinner is very different to being invited round for a family meal with some parents from your kids’ school.

But here is a guide to some of the things you can expect, the first thing being that – in general – French dinners last longer than in the anglophone world and have several different courses, with short pauses in between that are intended to help facilitate socialising.

When you walk into your French friend’s home, the first thing you should do is say hello to everyone that is already there. Many anglophones underestimate the importance of saying bonsoir, and as such, risk being perceived as rude by giving a general ‘hello’ to the whole room.

There are some other faux-pas to keep in mind while eating in a French home, like keeping your hands on the table rather than in your lap. You can learn more from The Local’s guide on table etiquette:

READ MORE: Cheese knives, hands and wine glasses – French table manners explained

Step 1: Aperitifs

This initial step typically involves a light alcoholic beverage before food is served. Apéro has its own culture and  if you’re invited to apéro don’t expect food beyond a few little snacks. Apéro generally takes place between 6pm and 9pm, though certainly before dinner.

READ MORE: Apéro: All you need to know about the French evening ritual

But before your big meal with your French friends or family, you will likely be offered a glass of something – whether that be champagne, Kir (or Kir Breton, if you find yourself in Brittany), Pastis (for those in the south) or a light cocktail. This is the time of night where people are chatting with a drink in their hand, and that drink will likely be influenced by the region you are visiting, so if you are in the south west you might enjoy an Aperitif of sweet wine or a Pinneau if you’re in Charente.

In terms of snacks, the relatively universal trend is light and salty – so you might expect to see olives and nuts, and perhaps even some raw vegetables with a dip. 

For those looking to avoid alcohol, soda or sparkling water, like Perrier is often the go-to alternative.

Step 2: The Entrée

The entrée – not to be confused with the main course, as it often is in the United States – is the first course – the starter or apetizer. In French, the verb entrer means “to enter” and this is the symbolic start of the meal.

As with most parts of your French dinner party, the food and drink offered will depend on regional tastes, as well as what is in season. For example, during the winter, you might have an onion soup. 

The first course is often cold or room-temperature foods – like Œuf mayonnaise. Some other common appetizers are smoked salmon canapé and escargot, the latter most common in Burgundy.

If you are along the Mediterranean, you might be offered tapenade – a purée of chopped olives, capers, and anchovies, and if you are on France’s western coast you might eat oysters.

If you are given a specific utensil to eat with – for instance a special fork for snails or a long pick for bulots (whelks) – then that should be used. If you’re having oysters they are traditionally slurped, all in one go, straight from the shell.

At this point in the meal, there will likely be  bread on the table to accompany the food but remember to save some room, because there are lots more courses to come. 

Step 3: The Main Course

Now it is time for the plat principal. Hopefully you are still hungry.

Tradition dictates that you should let your host serve you with wine, and old-fashioned French households would say that this rule applies specifically to women, who should wait for a man to come pour their wine. That being said, times have changed and most younger French people cheerfully ignore this. 

The wine poured will be paired with the meal, and the French abide by the general rules that red wine goes with red meat and tomato-based dishes, while white wine goes with fish, seafood, and dessert.

One for Americans – in France it’s considered polite to keep your fork in your left hand, and your knife in your right, and try to avoid the temptation of switching as you cut through the meat.

While it is considered polite to finish what is on your plate, if you find yourself getting full you can always say “C’était délicieux, mais ça suffit” (It was delicious, but that’s enough). While it may be tempting to tell your host “Je suis plein” (I am full) – be careful of false friends, you might be accidentally telling your host that you are pregnant. 

READ MORE: From rude to mince: 21 French ‘false friends’ that look English

Step 4: Dairy

This step in the French dinner timeline is not for the lactose-intolerant. After finishing the main dish, your French host will likely take out a cheese platter.

As there are hundreds of different types of French cheeses, it would take a long time to list all of the possible options you might encounter. The main thing to remember is not to use your hands (or your fork) when eating cheese. That might sound a bit tricky, so you can consult The Local’s cheese etiquette guide to prepare for this part of the meal.

READ MORE: Best Briehaviour: Your guide to French cheese etiquette

In some households – especially with children – your host might offer you a yogurt instead of cheese. This will likely be a small pot (cup) of a plain yogurt that you can add fresh fruit or compote (cooked fruit) to.

Step 5: Dessert

Dessert in France comes after cheese (not before as in the UK) and is generally quite small. Do not go into the meal expecting to leave lots of space in your stomach for a huge, sugary banana split ice cream or a sticky toffee pudding and custard. Instead, dessert might consist of some light pastries, chocolate, or small crème brûlée (when eating crème brûlée it’s considered elegant to tap the burnt sugar layer to break it first, rather than just shoving your spoon into the dish).

While eating dessert, you might be offered a sweet wine, like one from Sauternes.

Step 6: Coffee

At this point, it might be pretty late at night, but you will likely still be offered a coffee. Typically, this will be an espresso. If you want a little dash of milk in your short coffee, you can always ask for a noisette

Step 7: Digestif

This is the true end to the meal. Now that you have finished eating, and you’ve likely had a few glasses of wine, your host might put away the wine and take out a bottle of Cognac, Amagnac or similar.

The digestif is meant to settle your stomach, and they’re usually pretty strong so be careful if you have to be up early the next morning. Depending on where you are in France you will often be offered a local speciality like a Calvados (apple brandy) if you’re in Normandy.

Digestif: Do France’s after-dinner drinks actually help to settle your stomach?

Children

If you’re invited for a family meal, expect that the children will eat with you and will probably eat the same thing.

Depending on the age, the children might go away and play while the adults have the cheese and dessert courses and continue to chat but it’s usual for even young children to sit at the table and eat the first course and main course with their parents.

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