Verdant Pastures in Camembert, Normandy

A quick walk around the tourism office of Cabourg gave us the idea for our next stop in Normandy. We walked down to the grand casino to photograph the blue-and-white beach huts for which this part of France is so famous, and visited the local market to oggle at artisanal apple ciders and Pommeau Normandie. We had a quick lunch of oysters with this wonderful tarragon mayonnaise – no doubt homemade – and saved the latter to enjoy with chunks of baguette on the road to Camembert. That’s the town of Camembert, where Camembert is made.

The road to Camembert is on its own worth the trip over. It follows the Route du Cidre through Calvados, spotted with gorgeous estates and scenic towns along the way. We particularly enjoyed rolling through Beuvron-en-Auge and admiring the beautifully restored half-timbered houses, each sporting a thick thatched roof to prevent from the rain. As you approach the town, signs that read “To Camembert” begin to appear to assure one that cheese is nearby. I’m not really sure what I was expecting to begin with. I thought it would be something between an overly touristy Disney World town advertising “the full Camembert experience” and an industrial complex with the steel of cheese factories slicing aggressively into the verdant landscape. It was neither.

The town is tiny. Theres a nice visitor’s center called the Maison du Camembert and a museum nearby offering self-led tours. We signed up for that and learned all about the terroir, the history and the production by walking through an exhibition consisting of 4 or 5 rooms. We learned that “Marie Harel, a farmer at Beaumoncol Manor, Camembert, offered to shelter Abbott Bonvoust as he fled the French revolution. The Abbott, who was from Brie, gave Marie some valuable advice about maturing cheese, which resulted in the development of camembert.” We also learned that in 1911, the fat content of this cheese was sat at 45%. Things like that… At the entrance there’s also a glass display with 50 or so Camembert cheese packages from all over the world. It’s fun to compare how this cheese is marketed in China, Germany, England, etc. I even found two from Hungary, from Tihany and Bakony.

The tour ends with a tasting of three cheeses (pasteurized, semi-pasteurized and raw milk Camembert) at the visitors’ center, on wooden benches overlooking rolling green hills. I was especially excited about the unpasteurized cheese, practically impossible to find in the US. These cheeses were certainly not what I’m used to buying at Auchan. They’re nutty but mildly so, and impossibly creamy, perfect to pair with a good bottle of local cider. We left very happy, having enjoyed a unique experience that aroused a new respect for this classic specialty of Normandy.

 

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