Canadians cause a stink by beating France to take top Camembert prize

Lovers of “real” Camembert have suffered a further set back after a Canadian version of the creamy cheese was voted the best in the entire world.

Canadians cause a stink by beating France to take top Camembert prize
A cheesemaker in the Normandy village of Camembert. Photo: AFP

“Normandy Camembert dethroned by a Quebec cheese!” was the horrified headline of the Paris-Normandie newspaper from the northern French region where the delicacy has its spiritual home.

There were similar reactions across French media as the news reached France over the weekend that L’Extra, produced in Saint-Hyacinthe, near Montreal, had taken first prize in the Camembert category at the World Championship Cheese Contest.

The top French Camembert presented was Isigny Sainte-Mère which limped in at a lowly 12th place in the competition that it won back in 2010.

There was some comfort for France however as the country won the overall top prize at the event, which was held in Wisconsin and is seen as one of the world's top cheese events.

Esquirrou, which is crafted in the French Pyrenees mountains, must be aged no less than 90 days, and which features nutty notes and a toasted wheat aroma, was  judged the best cheese in the world.

But that did not prevent a minor bout of gloating from the Canadians, who were delighted at the victory over the French of their Camembert from Quebec.

“France insulted by a cheese from here,” said a headline in the Journal de Montréal.


The humiliation comes just weeks lovers of “true” Camembert were devastated when Normandy’s artisan dairies, which make the traditional version of the creamy cheese with raw milk, lost a decade-long battle with their mass-market rivals who make industrial, pasteurised Camembert.

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, according to an announcement by France's institute of origin and quality (INAO) last month.




Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?