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Oysters, Cheese and Sauces - Part III Camembert and Brie

A Camembert from Vancouver Island's Natural PasturesOysters, Cheese and Sauces - who knew these things but chefs, fishmongers and dairy people?

Cheese: Our recent tasting of Soft-ripened Bloomy Rind Cheeses prompted questions from our tasters like  "how are Camembert and Brie different anyway?" It was a question that had frequently flitted across my mind, but one that I had never seriously set out to research. So now was the time.

So here goes with some foodie trivia: Without  any books on cheeses in my library, my first visit was the web - but as usual I found conflicting information but this is what I gleaned from my reading.

 The modern day form of both Brie and Camembert that we get in North American s similar in that both are soft ripened and often made with similar bacterial cultures.  The original French Brie has a long history, and was often required as a tribute by the French Kings. Camembert is named after the 18th century Norman village of Camembert, where its originator Marie Harel lived. The name was given to this cheese after Napoleon had enjoyed a sample presented to him by one of Marie's daughters in 1855.

Several writers indicated that Brie and Camembert were essentially the same but that the difference s, as for wine, came from the terroir- or where the cows grazed. Since we had enjoyed both a Camembert and a Brie from the Natural Pastures Cheese company - and my assumption was that the milk was from the same source, I was curious to get feedback from the cheese maker about the issue of terroir.

Doug Smith of the Natural Pastures Cheese Company in Comox on Vancouver Island, was kind enough to send me these comments to clarify my questions.

"I guess terroir was a part of the difference as brie and camembert did originate in different areas of France.  We do make these cheeses slightly differently and use some different cultures, but also some cultures that are the same for both.
Also, the original brie was a larger round and the camembert was usually a smaller round.  We do make a large brie, but we only sell it to restaurants.  (The size does make a difference). We generally try to make our Comox Brie to be softer and creamier in texture and milder in flavour than our Comox Camembert.  But with both these cheeses, they will get stronger in flavour and softer in texture as they
age.
With a well aged soft cheese, there will be a strong odor of ammonia when the package is opened and the cheese will ooze in the center and be very soft, gooey and have some very strong flavours.  We expect this to happen around 60+ days after making.  If this is how you like your brie or camembert, look at our nutritional label on the back and check the best before date.  The closer to this date or past this date the greater chance that the cheese will be well aged."

I found this very helpful as I love my soft cheeses to be really soft and gooey in the centre and strong flavoured. So I plan to check dates carefully from now on and actually look for cheeses that are at or beyond the best before date.

A really ripe Brie or Camembert, a few grapes and walnuts and a glass of Riesling or Gewürtztraminer is my ideal combination for an after dinner dessert. Unless I have an ice wine at hand.