vendredi 30 mai 2008
`Raw' Rule in Appellation d'Origine
Camembert Tests `Raw' Rule in Appellation d'Origine (Update1)2008-05-30 02:54 (New York)
By Gregory Viscusi May 30 (Bloomberg) -- When is a Camembert not a realCamembert? When it isn't made with raw milk, says Bertrand Gillot,owner of Camembert maker Fromagerie Reaux. Larger industrial makers of the white, creamy cheese haveasked the government to extend the Appellation d'OrigineControlee designation -- France's gastronomic stamp of approval-- to Camembert made from pasteurized milk, saying it's safer.Pasteurizing does away with the need for repeated tests forbacteria, and the AOC label fetches higher prices. ``They just want the image of the AOC without the costs,''Gillot, 67, said, as he surveyed the vats of milk collected from65 farms around his factory in the Normandy town of Lessay,within sight of the English Channel. Gillot spends 11 percent ofhis revenue on testing milk and cheese. The disagreement has sparked a battle for the Frenchpalate, with large cheese makers such as Groupe Lactalis,Europe's biggest, trying to shake up centuries-old customs.Traditional Camembert makers and cheese aficionados say changewill destroy a savor developed in the late 1700s. ``Pasteurized milk is dead milk and you don't make a goodCamembert with dead milk,'' said Steve Jenkins, a connoisseurand head of the cheese department at New York's Fairway Markets.``I'm an absolute fanatic about Camembert. There is no morecomplex flavor in the world of food.'' Pasteurization requires temperatures of 72 degrees Celsius(162 degrees Fahrenheit) or more, while milk heated to no morethan 37 degrees is considered raw. In between is a processcalled thermalization. The U.S. bans raw-milk Camembert as unsafe.
The French government's food certification body, INAO, willdeliver its verdict on the label this summer. Daniel Nairaud,INAO's deputy director, said a 50-member committee is reviewingthe rules, seeking to ensure that products preserve regional``typicality.'' France has 1,000 kinds of cheese, with manystill made using age-old methods. In the last decade, INAO has allowed the AOC label forLivarot and l'Epoisses de Bourgogne cheeses made withthermalized milk. It has yet to do so for a Camembert. A visit to a Monoprix supermarket in Paris shows why theAOC label matters. A store brand Camembert costs 1.34 euros($2.08). The country's top-selling industrial brand, Lactalis'sPresident Camembert, goes for 1.89 euros. In contrast, the threeAOC offerings fetch 2.67 euros to 2.90 euros. The AOC labels are similar to the ones that distinguish agrand cru wine from the table variety. The two largest industrial Camembert producers, Lactalisand Isigny-Sainte-Mer, stopped making AOC Camembert last year,cutting France's AOC Camembert production by 69 percent to 4,000tons a year. About 118,670 tons of Camembert-type cheeses weremade in France in 2005, according to the NationalInterprofessional Dairy Center in Paris. ``The safety of our consumers is better assured bypasteurization,'' said Luc Morellon, a spokesman for Lactalis.
The battle intensified after Lactalis issued a statement inMarch saying it found bacteria in some Reaux Camembert. ``We just thought it was our responsibility to warn theauthorities,'' Morellon said. Gillot said Reaux's own tests were negative. ``It was a nasty and irresponsible attack to punish us forbeing one of the fervent defenders of raw milk,'' Gillot said. Reaux has annual sales of 15 million euros, compared with9.6 billion euros for Lactalis. In 2005, six children werehospitalized after eating Reaux Camembert infected with E. Coli.Production was shut for several weeks, Reaux said. ``The risk of raw-milk cheese is minimal if you are workingin small batches and respect basic sanitation,'' said SylvieLortal, director of the laboratory in Rennes of INRA, the Frenchfood-safety body. ``It's obviously harder to control if you'reworking with large quantities, so the real issue in this disputeis commercial, not safety.'' About 11 percent of French cheese is made with raw milk.``If it were dangerous, we'd know about it,'' Lortal said.
Reaux tests for bacteria at farms where its milk isproduced and again at its factory. The 11,000 liters (2,900gallons) of milk collected each day sit for 24 hours in vats,after which they are heated to 37 degrees. Rennet, an extractfrom calves' stomachs, is added to curdle the milk. Once theliquid reaches the consistency of runny creme caramel, the vatsare rolled into another room and the contents are ladled into1,470 metal cylinders. On the following day, the rounds are salted and placed incold storage for two weeks, during which the cheese firms up andthe characteristic white mold forms. After another week in awarmer room it is packed into individual wooden containers andshipped. Gillot at Reaux said he has no plans to move towardpasteurizing or thermalizing his company's cheese because theprocesses kill the milk's ferments -- good and bad. ``We sell to big supermarkets, small stores, and we exportas far away as Japan,'' he said. ``What's the problem? Whychange?''