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.
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Photo: Thomas Liasne/Les Filles à Fromage