Sacre bleu! Camembert and brie are ‘on the brink of extinction,’ French scientists warn


CAMEMBERT, France – On a small farm on the edge of a green hill NormandyAude Sementzeff heats raw milk from cows on top of the hill until it solidifies, then molds it into a mold to make a round, white Camembert cheese.

For eight years, Sementzeff has been making small, soft cheeses for sale Paris stores, continuing the tradition that began in the 18th century. Camembert is everywhere France that the soldiers in the trenches The World War ate as part of their daily diet.

“Camembert is right there in every part of our history,” Sementzeff, 41, said as he salted each cheese and turned it over so that the ribs were good. “So there is a strong link, I think, with French culture.”

But now this deliciously delicious taste is in trouble, as is Brie, another famous French cheese that is loved around the world.

The National Center for Scientific Research, a scientific organization in France, has warned that Camembert, brie and blue cheeses “could disappear,” due to the decline of the species of mushrooms that give the beloved cheeses their taste, aroma, and color. and composition.

“Blue cheeses may be at risk, but the situation is even worse for Camembert, which is on the verge of extinction,” the research center said. he wrote in a memo in January.

Although many cheese makers insist that the problem is not very difficult, they admit that the production of cheese like Camembert is growing, the result of previous attempts to make a good block.

Scientists refer to the mushroom’s role in cheesemaking as “sweet decay,” and it’s an essential part of making Camembert, which involves aging for several weeks. It can be added early with other enzymes after the milk is heated to make curds, or sprinkled on the cheese afterwards to aid ripening and promote the soft, white rind that Camembert loves.

A Normandy cow that provides milk for Camembert cheese on a farm near Isigny Sainte-Mere;  Camembert cheese maker.  (Alastair Miller; Maurice Rougemont/Getty Images file)

A Normandy cow that provides milk for Camembert cheese on a farm near Isigny Sainte-Mere; Camembert cheese maker. (Alastair Miller; Maurice Rougemont/Getty Images file)

In the early days of Camembert, the fungus existed naturally in the damp caves where it grew, said Emily Monaco, an American writer and cheese connoisseur based in Paris. He said that’s what gave each group its character.

“Some of them will be a little red or a little green or a little gray,” Monaco said. “And what people realized is that people really like the clean look of Camembert.”

As a result, in the 20th century, cheese makers stopped leaving mushrooms to chance and started making them in the lab. He isolated an albino strain called Penicillium camemberti that produced perfect white mold, and soon cheese makers around the world were using it.

Benjamin Wolfe, who teaches microbiology at Tufts University and studies fermented foods in his laboratory, said this brought advantages, such as consistency, and less.

“Often when we domesticate plants – or our pets, like dogs and sometimes cats – we choose certain species that we find interesting,” he said. “And when we do that, we’re removing that genetic diversity.”

Camembert cheeses are packed into boxes at Isigny Sainte (Alastair Miller/Bloomberg via Getty Images file)Camembert cheeses are packed into boxes at Isigny Sainte (Alastair Miller/Bloomberg via Getty Images file)

Camembert cheeses are packed into boxes at Isigny Sainte (Alastair Miller/Bloomberg via Getty Images file)

Over time, Penicillium camemberti loses its ability to reproduce naturally. Instead, scientists are growing mushrooms using asexual reproduction – not unlike planting a flower from a flower so that it is the same, not a seed. Wolfe said growing mushrooms this way is possible, but very difficult.

There’s also the long-term concern of having only one or two species: If a disease or pathogen develops that can infect the remaining species, it could wipe out the entire population.

It is a threat similar to that faced by other well-known foods due to the decline of the world’s biodiversity. global warmingscientists say.

Warming temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events are disrupting the ecosystems around the world that plants and animals depend on to survive, the UN said. he says. It is also increasing the number of diseases.

In the case of cheese, scientists have begun the process of restoring certain genetic variants to mushrooms. Lactalis, the world’s largest dairy company and the producer of France’s famous Presidente Camembert cheese, said it was “not worried about the future of our products.”

Statue of Marie Harel, who was born in 1761, invented camembert cheese;  cars along the Tour de France route advertise Coeur de Lion camembert cheese in 2002. (Antonio Autenzio; William Stevens/Getty Images file)Statue of Marie Harel, who was born in 1761, invented camembert cheese;  cars along the Tour de France route advertise Coeur de Lion camembert cheese in 2002. (Antonio Autenzio; William Stevens/Getty Images file)

Statue of Marie Harel, who was born in 1761, invented camembert cheese; cars along the Tour de France route advertise Coeur de Lion camembert cheese in 2002. (Antonio Autenzio; William Stevens/Getty Images file)

“We are committed to protecting the environment and the safety of ferments,” Lactalis said in a statement. “Our goal is to promote the knowledge and heritage of cheese, of which ferments are an important part.”

Paradoxically, large industrial producers who rely on lab-grown mushrooms may have a bigger problem in the future than small-scale artisanal farms, where the presence of animals and the lack of chemicals means that there are many different types of mushrooms that grow in the wild. . .

Monaco, the author, said future cheese lovers will have to accept that Camembert will never look and taste the same. He said part of the beauty of cheese is how it’s made with its environment, or terroir, and things that are more difficult when grass-fed dairy cows get more sun each year.

“If we want things to stay that way, we’re going to have a hard time moving forward,” he said. “If we’re happy that as we move forward, every Camembert you try will have its own personality and character, so that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com



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