There is only one true Camembert. It’s French and bears the name “Camembert de Normandie.” You won’t find it in the good old USA.
Why not? Well, the phrase on the box sums it up. Au Lait Cru. Thanks FDA for keeping us safe from this monstrosity. There are some nice pasteurized versions of Camembert coming out of France, but the good Camembert has recently started popping up in other places.
Even though they are technically not the real thing, some cheesemakers are taking a shot and making Camembert-style cheeses that stand up to it.
Bent River is made by Alemar Cheese Co. in Minnesota. It takes its name from a sharp turn in the Minnesota River at Mankato, where the cheese is made. The base of Bent River is local, organic cow’s milk. The flavor, like most cheese, depends a lot on the age of the cheese.
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When it is young, the cheese is dense and chalky, and the flavor is lactic and a little tangy with hints of butter. When it gets a little age on it, it comes into its flavorful Camembert glory. The paste moves to a molten custard, and earthy, vegetal flavors of broccoli and mushroom abound.
Another cheese living up to the great tradition is Camembert dell’Alta Langa. This northern Italian specialty kind of jumps the tradition track when it comes to the milk used.
There is a long Italian tradition of making mixed milk cheeses, so why not make a cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheese using a traditional French Camembert recipe. The flavors range from sweet and milky to meaty and vegetal. This cheese calls for a traditional Norman apple jam kissed with a little Calvados.
Going down south we find another reputable Camembert-style cheese. Green Hill is made in Thomasville, Ga., at Sweet Grass Dairy. Green Hill differs from traditional Camembert and the other two cheeses above in several ways.
The main difference is that it is a “double cream” cheese. The others are just traditional full-fat cheeses. With the addition of extra cream, the cheese retains a very buttery flavor throughout its life.
The flavors do not change drastically as it ages as with the others. It keeps very subtle, tangy flavors of milk, butter and mushroom. This may make Green Hill the best choice for Camembert beginners.
So even though we can’t get the real thing, there are still cheeses out there that can scratch the Camembert itch. Come see me for a taste if you are intrigued.
Lincoln Broadbooks loves cheese. He is one of the first cheesemongers in the United States and Canada to become an American Cheese Society-certified cheese professional. He is the manager and buyer for the Better Cheddar in Prairie Village. You can find him on Twitter @LincolnBbooks and on Instagram @lincycheese.