Camembert is one of the family of fromages à pâte molle et à croûte fleurie (soft cheeses with a floury crust). It’s less fatty than its pressed cheese cousins since it contains more water. It contains around 320 calories per 100g which is pretty good for cheese.
A typical 250g Camembert is made from two litres of milk, so lots of healthy calcium in every slice, and also a good dollop of phosphorus too.
There are vitamins A and B2 as well.
Generally, the longer you keep Camembert, the better it gets provided you don’t go past the eat by date on the packet and don’t leave it to shrivel up in the back of your frigo like we sometimes do, only rediscovering it the next time a full-scale fridge clean out is called for due to there being a funny smell. Which is usually the Camembert! If you eat it affiné, ie about 3 weeks after it’s been made, it’s light and delicate. When it becomes à point about a fortnight later, it’s altogether a more determined cheese. But wash it down with a swig of good strong red wine and it’s extremely palatable.
You can eat it in many different ways. Straight out of the packet on baguette is always nice. But slices rolled in breadcrumbs and then deep fried are my favourites. I once had these with a redcurrant sauce as a starter many years ago, and I can still remember how lovely it was.
I’ve never done it, but apparently it’s delicious if you cook the camembert in a moderate oven in its wooden box (assuming you buy the posher varieties) until the wood is starting to blacken. You then take the crust off with a knife and dip bits of bread into the melty cheese underneath. Something to try but keep a fire extinguisher handy.
I’ve read that Camembert chocolates and camembert sorbet are highly acclaimed gastronomic delights but I can’t say they sound very appealing.
Onto the cheese’s history. Legend has it that it all began with Marie Harel, a farmer in the village of Pays d’Auge at the end of the 18th century. She kindly sheltered a refractory priest, Abbé Charles-Jean Bonvoust, when he was on the run from the guillotine-obsessed authorities during the Revolution. He was from Brie originally, and to show his gratitude to Marie, he gave her the recipe for his native cheese. She combined this with the cheese she traditionally made and voilà, Camembert was born. Except this isn’t true. Camembert already existed. There are references to it that date back to 16th century. Nice try Marie!
The railway helped Camembert become famous since it could now be easily transported to markets in Paris. Once Napoléon said he liked it and officially called it Camembert, its success was assured. The famous round wooden boxes for Camembert were invented in 1890 by Ridel. These allowed the cheese within to breathe and thus be transported further afield to conquer foreign markets.
Until 1910 Camembert actually had a bluish mould on it. This ended with the discovery of penicillium candidum which produced a more attractive white mould. And it’s said that the cheese became the unofficial symbol of France when it was included in the daily rations of soldiers in the Great War.
So, rather an interesting cheese all round.