French Camembert producers cheesed off as Canadian rival scoops prize for world’s best

It was one of Napoleon’s favourite cheeses, but French pride in Camembert suffered a blow when a Canadian version of the soft, creamy delicacy native to Normandy was voted the world’s best.

A cheese made in Quebec has come first in the Camembert category at the World Championship Cheese Contest, held in Wisconsin.

L’Extra, produced in Saint-Hyacinthe, east of Montreal, beat the top French Camembert, Isigny Sainte-Mère, which won the title in 2010 but was placed 12th this year.

Although another variety of French cheese was named the overall winner of the "world’s best cheese" award, that success was eclipsed by the sour aftertaste of losing the Camembert prize. 

“How can it be?” lamented the Ouest-France newspaper.

The Journal du Dimanche newspaper commented: “Sadly, the French media have focussed with bitterness on the Camembert award.”

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The Sunday newspaper described it as “a humiliation for France”.

It reminded readers that Charles de Gaulle, the revered former president, had joked that the country was difficult to govern because it “had 258 varieties of cheese” and said it should do more to maintain its renown as the home of cheese-making.

The paper said “a diplomatic crisis” had only been averted by the overall victory of Esquirrou, a hard sheep’s milk cheese from France that was judged the world’s best.

In contrast, the Canadian producers, Agropur, said they were savouring victory: “The creamy texture and hazelnut-and-mushroom flavour of our Camembert delighted the refined taste buds of a distinguished panel of internationally known judges.”

It is not the first time that a non-French Camembert has won the award — German varieties came first in 2016 and 2014 and an Australian Camembert triumphed in 2012 — but never before have the French appeared to find it so hard to digest.

The defeat has rekindled a row over whether Camembert should be a protected geographical appellation like Champagne, preventing foreign producers or even those in other parts of France from naming their sparkling wine after the French region.

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It has also prompted an outcry over whether the Canadian winner can properly be classed as Camembert, given that it is made with pasteurised milk, a practice French connoisseurs deride as a travesty.

Purists — and many French consumers — believe that only unpasteurised raw milk from Normandy cows must be used to make the pungent, oozing king of soft cheeses.

However, a decade-long legal battle between Normandy’s craft dairies, which make old-fashioned Camembert with raw milk, and mass-market rivals producing industrial, pasteurised Camembert ended last month in defeat for the purists.

They were forced to concede that Camembert labelled with the AOP certification of provenance could be made with pasteurised milk.

Véronique Richez-Lerouge, a spokeswoman for the “Fromage de Terroirs” group which campaigns for traditional cheesemaking, expressed outrage.

“Nine out of 10 AOP Camemberts will be pasteurised and industrial like vulgar, mass-produced offerings,” she told the Daily Telegraph.

“Camembert will sink inexorably into mediocrity. It makes me laugh that a Canadian Camembert has won. There’ll soon be no difference between French Camembert and any other kind.”

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