France has hundreds of cheeses. You hear lots of exact numbers, but I suspect that no one really knows how many there are. Camembert is perhaps the most French of the French cheeses–it is the Frenchman’s stereotype of a French cheese. (If you’re French: Americans think that the stereotypical French cheese is a brie. We can’t get camembert worth the name in America–raw-milk cheeses aged less than 60 days are illegal. Yes, illegal.)
Every French cheese has a story. The story of camembert is that it was created by one Marie Harel when a priest fleeing to England around 1790 gave her some suggestions based on how they made cheese back in his home in Brie. (The Church was gone after with a vengeance after the French Revolution. Over 200 priests were killed in the September Massacres in Paris in 1792. I went to a beautiful Vivaldi concert nearby.) According to Kathe Lison’s delightful The Whole Fromage: Adventures in the Delectable World of French Cheese, camembert makers distributed it for free to soldiers in the trenches during World War I, hoping to create loyalty, and it worked.
Part of camembert’s charm for Americans (when we can actually buy it, which is when we come to France) is that it smells like we think a French cheese ought to smell: pretty bad. The hallways in the apartment that I’m renting were just painted, and the combination of the smell of the camembert sitting on my kitchen counter and the fresh paint is…intoxicating, and not in a good way. Still, the camembert made for a great dinner tonight with the stereotypical baguette and red wine–shoot me, I’m a tourist. Here are some words that are helpful for reading about camembert:
- puisque: since, because, seeing as; just as, just like.
- le convive: guest.
Devenu le symbole de la France avec la baguette de pain et le verre de vin rouge, il a une taille idéale pour un fromage, puisqu‘on peut le manger en une seul fois à quatre ou cinq convives. “Having become the symbol of France along with the baguette and the glass of red wine, it has the ideal size for a cheese, because one can eat it at one sitting with four or five guests.”