Serious Cheese: 'Business Week' Tackles France's Cheese War

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"Every victory for raw milk is a victory for cheesemakers everywhere."

For almost two years now, we at Serious Eats have been following France's long and arduous battle over raw milk Camembert. Last spring we reported that the clash had been settled—that French authorities had ruled that cheese made from lightly pasteurized milk could not be called A.O.C. Camembert.

This week Business Week ran an interesting and detailed piece on the issue, which reports that the two large corporations that had been lobbying for pasteurized Camembert, and that had ceased production of raw milk cheese entirely, are now in fact considering a return to raw milk production. Ultimately this is a victory for traditional foodways and small producers everywhere.

The Business Week article is more of an op-ed, painting the corporate PR fall-guy, Luc Morelon, as a cold, stubborn villain against the backdrop of the idyllic small-scale cheesemaker in François Durand. But Morelon's less-than-ideal portrayal is easy to justify with revelations such as these:

With their backs against the wall, Lactalis and Morelon decided to switch from conventional war to guerrilla tactics. The company began testing its small competitors' products in its own laboratories to search for malicious bacteria. On Oct. 11... Morelon issued a press release, as he had done in the past, to announce that Lactalis had "informed the authorities about bacteria found in the products of a competitor."

Lactalis and Morelon were apparently on a mission to wreck the image of the small-scale producers by claiming their products were unsafe (compared, of course, to the relative safety of Lactalis' pasteurized products). But this tactic backfired; Morelon had assumed that "the modern consumer has become more sensitive...he wants product safety, and he wants health." In fact, it seemed that the consumers cared more about their culinary heritage than worrying about a bad batch of cheese.

One of the more reassuring and insightful quotes in the article is from Marc Brunet, production manager at Reaux, a large raw-milk Camembert producer in France. According to him, "Raw milk has become a science. The constant analyses constitute 10 percent of our costs. And now imagine how much a company like Lactalis has to spend on this and how much it can save without raw milk."

Every victory for raw milk is a victory for cheesemakers everywhere. Raw milk cheese is constantly under threat of prohibition by government regulators throughout the world, and events like these help establish precedents on which advocates of raw milk cheese can argue their cases. Let's hope these kinds of victories continue in the years to come.