Gallic gastronomic pride has taken a humiliating knock after it emerged on Thursday that Italy’s mozzarella has dethroned camembert as France’s cheese of choice.
Famed for its circular form, gooey interior and pungent smell, camembert, which is made from cow’s milk, was long France’s favourite fromage in a country with far more types of cheese than there are days in the year.
But according to the Norman union of camembert producers, SNFC, since the start of the year, some 29,230 tons of camembert have been sold in France compared to 33,170 tons of mozzarella.
“For the first time in France, the curve of camembert sales, which has been dropping regularly by three per cent per year, has fallen below that of mozzarella sales, which for its part has seen an annual rise of five per cent,” according to SNFC president Fabrice Collier.
Speaking to Le Figaro, he said that while the two cheeses were not generally consumed in the same way – camembert is more for the “cheese platter” while mozzarella is used for “cooking” – the fact that a French cheese had lost the top spot to a foreign interloper was a source of “particular concern for the sector”.
Sales of mozzarella surpassed those of camembert in France this year, warns Normandy camembert producers' union
However, independent producers of traditional camembert made from raw milk said multinational makers of industrial, pasteurised camembert, which accounts for 90 per cent of sales, only had themselves to blame.
While a handful of traditional producers continued to employ techniques virtually unchanged since the French revolution, industrial producers were killing off the goose that lays the golden egg with double-pasteurised tasteless camembert, they argued.
“This is the logical result of a regular drop in quality since the 1970s and 80s,” said organic camembert maker Patrick Mercier.
“Our sales are very healthy and have in fact gone up,” he told the Telegraph. But when it comes to pasteurised camembert, “the consumer realises that the pleasure is no longer the same.”
“When you buy camembert that has the right shape but not the old taste, you get disappointed customers,” he said. "They thought they could live off the name forever. They were wrong."
Mozzarella’s move into the top spot comes a year after cheese purists cried victory against industrial camembert makers who were banned from calling themselves AOP cheese or including the word “Normandy” on their packaging.
Mr Collier, who works for dairy giant Lactalis that owns the vast majority of pasteurised camembert, said that the Norman ban had contributed to falling sales.
Mr Mercier said the industrial camembert makers should stop crying over spilled milk and their howls over lost sales were a last-ditch bid to change labelling rules in their favour.