Camembert—delectably fragrant, creamy-centered, neatly boxed—is the most popular and most famous French cheese. Originally made by hand in the Norman countryside, it is now mass-produced internationally, yet Camembert remains a national symbol for France, emblematic of its cultural identity. In this witty and entertaining book, Pierre Boisard investigates the history of Camembert and its legend. He considers the transformation of France's cheese-making industry and along the way gives a highly selective, yet richly detailed history of France—from the Revolution to the European Union. Camembert: A National Myth weaves together culinary and social history in a fascinating tale about the changing nature of food with implications for every modern consumer.
As the legend goes, by coincidence, grand design, or clever marketing, the birth of Camembert corresponds almost exactly in time with the birth of the French republic. In this book, republicans and Bonapartists, revolutionaries and priests are reconciled over the contents of a little round box, originating a great myth and a great nation. The story of the cheese's growing fame features Napoleon, Louis Pasteur, the soldiers of the First World War, and many others.
Beneath this intriguing story, however, runs a grittier tale about the history of food production. We learn, for example, how Camembert became white—a topic that becomes a metaphor for the sanitation of the countryside—and how Americans discovered the secrets of its production. As he describes the transformation of the Camembert industry and the changing quality of the cheese itself, Boisard reveals what we stand to lose from industrialization, the hallmark of the past century.
Today, small producers of raw-milk, ladle-molded Camembert are fighting to keep their tradition alive. Boisard brings us to a new appreciation of the sensual appeal of a lovely cheese and whets the appetite for a taste of the authentic product.
Pierre Boisard is Professor of Social Sciences, Centre d'études de l'emploi.
"Readers who enjoy good food and entertaining history will be delighted by Pierre Boisard's Camembert, which tells the story of France's national cheese. Boisard shows how both Camembert and its fame were shaped by historical, economic, scientific, and technological forces, how this recently invented "traditional" food evolved into an industrial product that still manages to evoke the preindustrial past. And he offers a memorably frank and French analysis of odorous fermented milk and its transgressive pleasures. After Camembert, cheese will never taste quite the same!"—Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking and The Curious Cook
"Pierre Boisard's Camembert defines scholarly cheese writing with an in-depth look at Normandy's contribution to the world's greatest cheeses. A real contribution to the field of food history."—Rob Kaufelt, proprietor, Murray's Cheese, New York City
"By painstakingly tracing Camembert’s beginnings from 200 years ago to modern day, Pierre Boisard takes us on a fascinating journey of the development of a great cheese and the larger struggle it has represented between rural France and the economic demands of big business. Camembert: A National Myth reads like a combined historical and suspense novel as Boisard traces the parallels between Camembert’s development and that of France. A fascinating and essential read for anyone who loves Camembert or any artisan food for that matter, and who wishes to see these foods – and their rural roots – preserved."—Laura Werlin, author of The New American Cheese