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Camembert cheese is one of the most famous of French soft cheeses, heavily associated with French culture much like Champagne and Pate. The thick, gooey cheese is popular on bread and paired with fruit, and is often packed as a picnic food since it tastes excellent when served warm. Many specialty cheese stores carry this cheese, which is protected with an Appellation of Controlled Origin to ensure that the cheese does not lose its cultural and historic value.
The origins of Camembert cheese can be found in the mid-1800s, when Napoleon was allegedly offered some by a farmer's wife in the village of Camembert. The recipe for making Camembert is closely related to many other famous French soft cheeses, such as Brie, and Napoleon supposedly named the cheese after the village to distinguish it from other soft cheeses which might have been available. The production of Camembert continues in Northwest France to this day, using milk from cows which traditionally graze very rich soil scattered with apple trees.
To make Camembert cheese, cow's milk is curdled and inoculated with bacteria. The curds are packed into cheese molds, yielding a crumbly cheese which softens as it ripens, eventually forming a cheese with a velvety white rind and a slowly oozing center. As a general rule, Camembert should be served at room temperature or warm, as this brings out the buttery, slightly salty flavor of the cheese. The gooey nature of the cheese makes it very easy to spread, as well. Typically, this cheese is aged for around three weeks before being boxed in a traditional round wooden box and sent to market.
When looking for Camembert cheese in the market, consumers should look for a plump cheese which is soft to the touch. A hard or cracked rind is an indication that the cheese has not aged well, and it should be avoided. When cut open, Camembert should ooze slowly from the middle. An extremely runny cheese is not considered fit for consumption, and may be unsafe as well as inedible.
In order to receive an Appellation of Controlled Origin, true Camembert cheese must use unpasteurized milk, which is carefully handled throughout the production process. Other producers make a pasteurized cow's milk cheese which closely resembles Camembert, although it is not entitled to a special label. Both cheeses make fine table cheese, and go well with cheese plates and samplers, although purists tend to prefer true Camembert.