The world of camembert cheese has been rocked for more than 12 years by a hard-fought battle over the type of milk that is permitted in the product.
Traditionalists say it must only be produced with unpasturised milk, produced by cows that graze on Normandy grass.
Industrial producers say this is impractical as it dos not allow them to export the cheese to the United States – which bans unpasturised milk – and changes would boost local agriculture.
The culture war had already been raging for 10 years when in February 2018 when a compromise was announced – industrial producers would use more milk from grass fed cows but at the same time would be permitted to use pasturised milk in their product and keep the prestigious 'AOP Normandy Camembert' label.
But anyone who hoped the compromise had dampened down the cheese wars was in for a disappointment, after producers voted on Friday against allowing pasturised milk anywhere near their famous product.
Grass-fed Normandy cows made the best milk for camembert. Photo: AFP
The vote among dairy executives was a narrow victory – 53 percent – for the traditionalists.
Producers rejected “an enlarged Normandy AOP,” Patrick Mercier, the appellation's president and a key backer of the project, said in a statement.
Veronique Richez-Lerouge, a staunch opponent of the plan who heads the “Fromages de Terroirs” association, hailed “very good news for all European AOPs.”
“The principle of quality won out over the increased demands of dairy giants, it's a victory for taste,” she said.
Supporters said the compromise would have reversed decades of declining dairy farming in western France, where fewer than a dozen producers still make the cheese the traditional way.
Industrial producers would have had to sharply increase the amount of milk from Normande cows – instead of more productive Holsteins that now predominate – and ensure they mainly ate grass instead of standardised feed.
Advocates also pointed out that pasteurisation, the gentle heating of milk to remove bacteria, is already accepted in roughly 25 percent of French AOP cheeses.
But critics cried foul, saying consumers would be confronted with dual versions of the camembert appellation d'origine protegee (AOP), the French badge of quality for locally produced delicacies.
France's national dairy AOP board, the CNAOL, came out against the plan last spring, calling it an “unacceptable homogenisation” of a cheese whose flavour and texture change with the seasons.
The board's president Michel Lacoste said using “curd machines” and other techniques would make the cheese taste the same year round, no matter what type of milk was used.
“The whole point of AOP cheese is that is comes from milk that's alive, from a particular place, and the producer has to adapt to make it,” he said.