23 Jun 2017

Camembert supplies dwindle, but don't get cheesed off

12:03 pm on 23 June 2017

Supplies of genuine camembert cheese from France are dwindling, with just 1 percent of global production considered the real deal.

No caption

Photo: 123rf.com

Of the 360 million wheels of camembert produced every year, just four million bear the 'AOC' stamp to guarantee its authenticity, according to a Bloomberg report.

But Hawke's Bay-based Juliet Harbutt, who founded the British Cheese Awards, said most people wouldn't be able to tell the difference in taste between authentic Normandy-made camembert and the product in New Zealand supermarkets.

Ms Harbutt said a traditional and genuine camembert cheese had to be made in a certain place and in a certain way.

"Camembert de Normandie, which is its true name, was made on the coast of Normandy and it was this wonderful unique product with its own little environment where it was made and little yeasts and moulds and a lovely white crust.

"All of that was put together in this little cheese that was made with raw milk."

Juliet Harbutt

Juliet Harbutt Photo: Supplied

But many of Europe's artisan products were now being made commercially, said Ms Harbutt.

"Slowly, over the years, what's happened is the big companies have taken over the small guys, the small guys have given up because perhaps their young families don't want to get into making cheese any longer.

"The number of producers of raw milk camembert have reduced down to less than a handful, which is very sad."

She said the recent international attention to the shortage was most likely because Bastille Day in France was coming up next month.

"It's quite a good way of publicising the fact that many of these artisan products are slowly disappearing.

"It's a good chance of raising the profile of the good unique products by saying to people 'look there are these wonderful producers out there, but if you don't eat them they'll disappear'."

Calum Hodgson - from specialty food retailer Sabato, which imports cheese into New Zealand from Europe - said the shortage of genuine camembert was driven by the world's changing palate.

"I think it's some testament to the buying public in France, it's like any other western country... they buy pretty rubbish cheese like we do. The biggest selling cheese to my knowledge over there is American Philadelphia from Kraft.

"It's only been there a few years and the French love it, so they are migrating away from their own traditional traditions and buying into junk."

Mr Hodgson said to judge if camembert was ready to eat, you put your left index finger on your eye and your right index finger on the cheese - if they sort of feel the same, then the cheese is ready.