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

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

“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.