France's Treasured Cheese Faces "Extinction"

Written by Camilla Jessen

Mar.06 - 2024 7:21 PM CET

France's iconic Camembert cheese, deeply rooted in the country's culture since the 18th century, is now facing a critical challenge.

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Recent reports have stirred fears of an 'extinction' due to a fungal shortage affecting its production. Despite these worries, some are not as concerned about the future of this iconic dairy product.

A study from Paris-Saclay University in January revealed that the essential fungus for Camembert, among other cheeses, is becoming scarce because of the industrial methods used to meet high demand. This has led to headlines claiming Camembert could disappear, causing a stir among cheese lovers.

"Blue cheeses may be under threat, but the situation is much worse for Camembert, which is already on the verge of extinction," stated the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

Another report called for prayers for Camembert amidst a "cheese crisis."

Camembert holds a special place in French culture, often symbolizing the nation alongside wine, baguettes, and the Eiffel Tower. "It’s our national cheese," said Anne-Marie Cantin, a longtime cheesemonger and head judge at the 2023 French national Camembert competition.

Old Mold

The core of the issue lies with Penicillium camemberti, a fungus crucial in giving Camembert its distinctive white rind and unique flavor. Industrial production pressures have led to a decrease in this fungus's genetic diversity, making reproduction difficult. This shift from traditional to industrialized cheese production has raised concerns about maintaining the quality and supply of Camembert spores.

Despite historical challenges and changes in production methods, some in the cheese industry, like Bruno Lefèvre of Les fromageries de Normandie, are skeptical of the crisis. Lefèvre, whose family has been making Camembert for over a century, has not experienced issues with fungus supply and questions the panic incited by the study.

France's annual cheese fair in Paris has seen this topic as a point of discussion, with many cheesemakers like Lefèvre puzzled by the sudden concern. Researchers insist that Camembert is not in immediate danger, emphasizing the issue is more about reducing genetic diversity than an imminent extinction.

Interestingly, Camembert's history is intertwined with international appreciation, including a special connection to the United States. American gratitude for the cheese, demonstrated through monuments in Normandy and Ohio, pointing to its global significance beyond French borders.

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