Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What is the difference between Brie and Camembert?

We get this question a lot at Dussa’s Ham and Cheese.  And what is our answer?

About a two hour drive!

Seriously, there is not that much of a difference between these two delicious French cheeses.  Brie, having a history that dates back to the 8th century, is traditionally made just south of Paris, where the cattle graze on stony river beds.  Camembert is a relatively new cheese however, dating to about the 1800’s.  Its traditional home is Normandy, where cattle graze on lush green pastures. Both cheeses in their authentic form are made from unpasteurized milk, and are manufactured in pretty much the same way. The only difference is the bacteria used in each cheese:  Penicillium Camemberti is used in Camembert, where as Brevibactirium is used in Brie.  The difference in flavours between the two cheeses, aside from the slight variation in the milk due to the different diets of the dairy cows used, is down to the difference sizes of the cheeses.  Brie is usually made into a large flat wheel, weighing up to 3 kilograms.  Camembert, on the other hand, is made into small high cylinders, usually not weighing more than 250-300 grams, although it can be found to weigh up to 1 kilo.  Because of Camembert’s shape and size, it tends to age faster and lose more moisture, therefore rendering a stronger cheese with a thicker paté. Traditionally made Brie is said to have a smoother, creamier flavour, compared to Camembert, which tends to have a nuttier, sweeter taste.

All that said, these comparisons can only apply to AOC designated Brie and Camembert.  Most Brie and Camembert found in North America are not AOC designated, and usually factory produced. They are made of pasteurized milk for the most part, and aged to please the North American palate. Often times, no difference can be found in flavour or appearance between a non AOC designated Brie and a non AOC designated Camembert.  There are only two AOC designated Bries- Brie du Meaux and Brie de Melun (which is not exported). As for Camembert, only raw milk Camembert produced in Normandy can have the AOC designation.  Always look for the AOC stamp on the label if you are looking for traditional Brie and Camembert.

When trying to find the perfect Brie or Camembert, go by sight, touch, and smell.  The rind should not be pristine white, as that indicates the cheese is too fresh. It should, however, have a downy rind and even sometimes have little red dots.  The paté should be a nice straw colour.  The cheese itself should not have a runny interior, but should “bulge” or flow minimally.  If you squeeze the fleshy area very gently between your index finger and thumb, the cheese should yield to the touch like bread dough.  Non-traditionally produced Brie and Camembert are the opposite: you may want to look for a bright pristine white rind and gooey white paté.  No matter what style of Brie or Camembert you have, you never want the rind to break away from the paté, nor do you want the cheese to smell of ammonia- both are indications that the cheese is over-ripe.

Both Brie and Camembert are amazing cheeses.  Whether you go for the stronger unpasteurized versions or the milder, creamier North American styles, you are always going to end up with a fantastic cheese that pleases most everyone whom you are entertaining.

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  1. Merci, thank you it is a good indication!