Camembert is a soft, creamy, surface-ripened cow's milk cheese. It was first made in the late 18th century in Normandy in northern France.
The first Camembert was made from unpasteurised milk, and the AOC variety "Camembert de Normandie" is still required by law to be made only with unpasteurised milk. Many modern cheesemakers, however, use pasteurized milk for reasons of safety, compliance with regulations, or convenience.
The cheese is made by inoculating warmed milk with mesophilic bacteria, then adding rennet and allowing the mixture to coagulate. The curd is then cut into roughly 1 cm (1/2 inch) cubes, salted, and transferred to Camembert moulds. The moulds are turned every six to twelve hours to allow the whey to drain evenly from the cut curds; after 48 hours, each mold contains a flat, cylindrical, solid cheese mass weighing approximately 350 grams (about 12 oz). At this point the fresh cheese is hard, crumbly, and bland.
The surface of each cheese is then sprayed with an aqueous solution of the moulds Penicillium candidum and Penicillium camemberti and the cheeses are left to ripen for at least three weeks. The ripening process produces the distinctive rind and creamy interior texture characteristic of the cheese. Once the cheeses are sufficiently ripe, they are wrapped in paper and may be placed in wooden boxes for transport.
Camembert can be used in many dishes, but is also popularly eaten uncooked on bread or with wine or meat, as the subtle flavour and texture does not survive heating. It is usually served at room temperature.
Camembert was reputedly invented in 1791 by Marie Harel, a farmer from Normandy, thanks to advice from a priest who came from Brie.
However, the origin of the cheese known today as Camembert is more likely to rest with the beginnings of the industrialization of the cheesemaking process at the end of the 19th century. In 1890, an engineer, M. Ridel invented the wooden box which was used to carry the cheese and helped to send it for longer distances, in particular to America where it became very popular. These boxes are still used today.
Before fungi were properly understood, the colour of Camembert rind was a matter of chance, most commonly blue-grey, with brown spots. From the early 20th century onwards, the rind has been more commonly pure white, but it was not until the mid-1970s that pure white became standard.
The cheese was famously issued to French troops during World War II, becoming firmly fixed in French popular culture as a result. It has many other roles in French culture, literature and history. It is now internationally known, and many local varieties are made around the world.
The variety named "Camembert de Normandie" was granted a protected designation of origin in 1992 after the original AOC in 1983.
Camembert cheese gets its characteristic flavor from many naturally occurring chemical substances, including ammonia, succinic acid and salt. When present, bitter notes may be caused by ornithine, cadaverine, and citrulline. Over-ripe camembert contains an unpleasant, excessive amount of ammonia, which is produced by the same microorganisms required for ripening.
"The Persistence of Memory" is one of the most famous paintings by artist Salvador Dali. The painting has also been popularly known as "Soft Watches" or "Melting Clocks". The original idea of this painting came to Dalí on a hot summer's day. He was at home with a headache while Gala, his wife, was out shopping. After his meal, he noticed some half-eaten Camembert cheese and how runny it had become due to the heat of the sunny day. That night, while he had been searching his soul for something to paint, he had a dream of clocks melting on a landscape. He went back to the unfinished piece he had been working on, which had a plain landscape with rocky cliffs in the background and a tree on a platform. Over two or three hours, he added in the melting pocket watches which made this the iconic image it is today.