“For the first time in France, camembert sales figures, down 3 percent year on year, have fallen below those of mozzarella, which grow 5 percent annually,” Fabrice Collier, president of the Syndicat normand des fabricants de camemberts (SNFC) told Le Figaro on Wednesday.
“From the beginning of the year up until September 11th, we sold 29,230 tonnes of camembert in France, compared to 33,170 tonnes of mozzarella.”
Traditions under threat?
“In the 1980s, we were producing 180,000 tonnes of camembert, part of which was exported – that’s twice as much as today,” Collier added.
While some have interpreted the figures as a ploy to boost the sales of camembert, others are worried about what this means for the future of French cooking.
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David Gallienne, a chef from Normandy, the home of traditional camembert, who won Season 11 of the French cooking contest Top Chef, told Le Parisien the news was “a sign we’re losing our traditions”.
“We produce a cheese that stinks! Even if not everyone can eat it, we need to defend our products,” Michel Sarran, who holds two Michelin stars and was formerly a judge on Top Chef, told the newspaper, adding that mozzarella is a product he “struggles to consider cheese”.
The pandemic played a role
The rise of mozzarella reflects the popularity of Italian food in general in France. The figures do not only take into account the cheese that French people pick up directly at the supermarket, but also that which appears in meals sold in shops and in restaurants. Here of course mozzarella has one big advantage: the pizza.
Indeed, while mozzarella is commonly used for cooking, camembert is usually consumed as part of a cheese board, often in a restaurant. Except restaurants were closed for the first four and a half months of this year.
“All the platter cheeses, the AOPs [Protected designation of origin] we find in restaurants, suffered during this period,” sociologist Jean-Pierre Poulain told Le Parisien. “The only ones who continued doing business were those who delivered: pizzerias, which used mozzarella.”
According to a 2019 study from Harris interactive for Groupon, 94 percent of French people enjoy Italian food, making it the nation’s favourite foreign cuisine. Ever the patriots, however, 97 percent said they liked French cooking, so maybe the fears are overblown.
And mozzarella may have overtaken camembert, but it’s not the most popular cheese in France. According to a report from FranceAgriMer, that title belongs to emmental – people in France bought 164,506 tonnes of the cheese in 2020.
Although maybe there is another reason for camembert’s fall in popularity. As the tweet below suggests, “It’s normal, people have had enough of the President” (Président is a popular brand of cheese, including camembert, in France).
Normal les gens ne veulent plus du Président
— qtn (@qtn_crb) October 13, 2021
But it’s not just added competition the SNFC is concerned about. “With the banning of any reference to Normandy for pasteurised camembert, we are particularly worried about the future of the industry,” Collier said.
Indeed, since January 1st, 2021, the large industrial groups are no longer able to sell cheese labelled “made in Normandy”, judged too similar to the AOP Camembert de Normandie label that’s reserved for traditional producers of unpasteurized cheese.