In the village of Camembert, in northern France, stands a statue of Marie Harel, the French farmer whois credited with inventing the much-loved Camembert cheese in 1791. The statue was given to the village in 1926 by an American doctor, Joseph Kirim, who believed the cheese cured his stomach problems.
Cheesemakers who still use Harel's process, with unpasteurized cow's milk, can label their cheese authentic "Camembert Normandie," though similar Camemberts are now produced in other areas, including Italy, Switzerland, Japan, the United States and Brazil.
The delectable cheese starts out crumbly and hard. Its surface is sprayed with a mold, and then the cheese is left to ripen for at least three weeks, during which time a furry white rind forms on the exterior while a smooth, runny, yellowish interior develops. The rind, which is edible, has a somewhat tart, mushroomy taste, while the buttery inside is rich, salty and nutty. The individual cheeses, each about 4.5 inches in diameter, are placed in wooden boxes (designed in 1890 by French engineer Ridel) for transport.
Camembert is similar to Brie, though softer and more pungent. The traditional way to enjoy Camembert is with a nice baguette, but it also makes a lovely table cheese, served—at room temperature—with fruits and nuts. It pairs deliciously with jams and honey, too.
Try Camembert in soups, like a mushroom, broccoli or French onion soup. Use it in quiche and mashed potatoes, omelets and fondues. Transform a run-of-the-mill pizza or lasagna with creamy Camembert, and serve it atop any pasta dish.
Baked Camembert is an easy-to-make but very special treat. Here's a recipe for Baked Camembert with Thyme & Garlic from Epicurious.
However you serve it, Camembert is always delightful when served with a red Bordeaux or a Beaujolais, or a glass of cider.
Once a wheel of Camembert is cut into, the cheese stops ripening and should be eaten within about a week. After that, Camembert will start to develop a powerful, unpleasant, ammonia-like aroma. Also, if the rind is dry and cracked and the texture is dry, then the cheese is past its prime.
Wrap Camembert in wax or parchment paper, then cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. To freeze, wrap in freezer wrap or heavy-duty foil and use within 3 months. Camembert that's been frozen will be more crumbly and a bit milder than the fresh cheese, but it's still suitable for casseroles, soups and sauces.
If you're looking for a cheese that's a bit over the top—creamier and more pungent than most—give Camembert a try.