PARIS (AFP) — A battle over the future of camembert, one of France’s most emblematic cheeses, came to a head Friday after producers voted against allowing pasteurized versions of the venerable raw-milk pucks.
A narrow majority of dairy executives — 53% — rejected a plan that would have given industrial producers the right to use the “Camembert of Normandy” label, even when using modern techniques denounced by purists.
Producers rejected “an enlarged Normandy AOP,” Patrick Mercier, the appellation’s president and a key backer of the project, said in a statement.
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.
Mercier, one of just two producers who make raw-milk camembert from their own herd of native Normande cows, nonetheless wanted industrial giants like Lactalis to adopt the camembert label.
They 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 standardized feed.
Advocates also pointed out that pasteurization, the gentle heating of milk to remove bacteria, is already accepted in roughly 25% 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 homogenization” of a cheese whose flavor 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.
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.
© Agence France-Presse