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Au revoir camembert?

The destiny of these cherished cheeses rests not solely in the hands of artisans and epicureans, but in the collective consciousness of a society on the cusp of change

AJ Linn

Friday, 5 April 2024, 11:14

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Oddly, a Scottish doctor is commemorated as a saviour of Spanish bullfighters. Busts of Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) were featured outside two of Spain's major bullrings. Fleming invented penicillin and as a result many injured matadors, who may otherwise have died from infections, survived.

But now our beloved soft cheeses teeter on the brink of extinction. The culprit? An overdependence on a single strain of the Penicillium camemberti fungus. The French National Centre for Scientific Research has issued a sobering warning, highlighting the imminent loss of microbial diversity, a vital element in cheese production that lies at the heart of French culinary artistry. The strain has been replicated by vegetative propagation only since the 1950s, before which Camemberts still had grey, green or in some cases orange-tinged, moulds on their surface.

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These colours were off-putting, so everything was staked on the albino strain of P. camemberti, white with a silky texture. But over the years, the albino strain of P. camemberti, which was already incapable of reproduction, lost its ability to produce asexual spores. As a result it is now very difficult for the entire industry to obtain enough P. camemberti spores to inoculate their production of the famous Norman cheese.

WINE OF THE WEEK

WINE OF THE WEEK
  • Monte Real Gran Reserva 2016

    From a 150-year-old bodega, this is one of the best value-for-money Gran Reservas available today. Tempranillo grapes from a 500m altitude vineyard, matured in oak for three years and two years in the bottle. Around 15 euros.

The destiny of these cherished cheeses rests not solely in the hands of artisans and epicureans, but in the collective consciousness of a society on the cusp of change. It is a clarion call for diversity in both methods of production and the palates of consumers.

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