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Are Camembert and Brie Actually Facing “Extinction”?

Margaret Lipman
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Renowned for their rich, creamy taste and slightly pungent aroma, camembert and brie are soft cow’s milk cheeses from France. Recently, these cheeses have been in the media spotlight as concerns mount over their future. But are camembert and brie actually facing extinction, as some reports have suggested?

The furor began with a study published in January by the French National Center for Scientific Research, which warned that the production of these cheeses could be at risk due to a fungal “crisis.”

Camembert, first crafted in Normandy in the late 18th century, and brie, which originated from the Île-de-France region, owe many characteristics to the main fungus used in their creation, Penicillium camemberti. This mold is responsible for breaking down the milk to produce curds and releasing byproducts that give the cheeses their signature flavor and aroma (or, perhaps more accurately, odor).

Originally, the rinds of these cheeses exhibited a diverse range of colors, including shades of blue, gray, green, and orange. Their vibrancy resulted from exposure to naturally occurring mold in the process of cave aging. In the early 20th century, Penicillium camemberti was introduced by cheesemakers due to its desirable attributes. This fast-growing strain enabled mass production and created the uniform white appearance that characterizes camembert and brie today. By the 1970s, this consistent white rind had become the hallmark of these cheeses, with Penicillium camemberti becoming the only strain used in their production.

Although Penicillium camemberti could originally reproduce both sexually and asexually, the asexual method was favored by cheese producers due to the uniformity of the results. Thus, the albino fungus strain was cloned repeatedly and has degenerated somewhat as a result. The lack of genetic diversity makes it vulnerable to pathogens and environmental threats. The fungus lost the ability to reproduce sexually and is now unable to produce asexual spores, resulting in a shortage that could pose a threat to its vital role in the cheese industry.

Not quite a catastrophe for camembert:

  • Despite these challenges, cheese enthusiasts can be assured that camembert and brie aren’t on the brink of extinction. However, it’s possible that their appearance and flavor could one day resemble the colorful, varied cheeses of centuries past, rather than the uniform white rind we’re used to seeing.

  • Researchers are investigating methods to domesticate wild mold strains and encourage more genetic diversity in the fungus lineage, ensuring the continued production of these cheeses.

  • Blue cheeses like Gorgonzola and Roquefort are also facing a lack of fungus genetic diversity, though the situation appears less serious than with brie and camembert.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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