Courts may decide who's milking France's Camembert

Tue Nov 29, 2011 6:47am EST
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By Anna Maria Jakubek

PARIS (Reuters) - The debate over just whose soft, salty Camembert is the true Normandy cheese may be headed for the courts.

Small producers from the northwestern French region say industrialists are capitalizing on the artisan makers' prized "Camembert of Normandy" label by using the similar "Camembert made in Normandy" phrase to designate their version of the round cow's milk cheese.

While any cheesemaker around the world can print the word "Camembert" on their label, the "Camembert of Normandy" term is a form of European certification, or appellation d'origine protégée (AOP), reserved since 1983 for the few who follow traditional methods.

Purists use raw milk from Normandy cows and hand-ladle the cheese into molds. Industrialists are more likely to pasteurize their milk - or heat it to kill bacteria and render the curd easier to process - and procure their milk from all over, allowing for a lower-priced product.

Worried that the difference between the two is being lost on consumers, the association of AOP Camembert makers plans to file a "usurpation of notoriety" claim by the end of the year to bar industrialists from using the similar phrase.

To be fair, the "Camembert made in Normandy" label is accurate, as these industrialists do make their pasteurized Camembert in the region.

But consumer experts say the nuance in wording compounds a situation in which shoppers are already swamped with information, have poor understanding of label meanings and are wired to disregard them anyway.

"People will pay more attention to colors on the box or its rustic aspect or the image of a cow under an apple tree," said Charles Pernin, a food expert at the French consumer protection agency CLCV.   Continued...