Brie or Camembert?
October 25, 2009 6:31 AM   Subscribe

What's the difference between Brie and Camembert, apart from wheel size?

I know there are traditional and modern methods of production/recipes for both these cheeses, but what interests me is how they are differentiated within a single brand. How does this work?

All insights welcome, but most especially from cheese insiders!

posted by Wolof to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Well from someone who is merely a lover of cheese it seems that at the most basic there are two main differences:

1) The two cheeses come from different regions

2) As you mentioned - the size of the wheel

The size of the wheel apparently plays a role in the maturing and taste development of the cheese. Camembert is smaller and ripens differently to brie.

How it's differentiated within a brand though is a really good question. Does the size of the wheel have such an impact on the taste development that it can be identified as a totally different cheese? Or are different cultures used? Or are some brands simply playing silly buggers and using names willy-nilly?

Side point: in Japan you will find domestically produced camembert (mainly from Hokkaido) but I personally have never come across Japanese brie.
posted by gomichild at 6:39 AM on October 25, 2009

[few comments removed - let's presume Wolof's google works and that wild guesses are not what's being looked for]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:10 AM on October 25, 2009

The same brand can't be making true Brie and true Camembert. Basically there isn't much difference between to two - its the same bacteria acting on both to make the cheese. Like other have said the wheel size is basically the only difference - which very much has an impact on taste and texture. The only applies for industrial cheeses. For true Brie de Meaux and Camembert there are lots of little tweaks to how they are made (very specific rules on milk sourcing, how the curd is strained, how the milk is poured and coagulated, etc, etc) but just your local deli cheese - yeah not much of a difference.

Also traditionally Camembert is eaten much "riper" than Brie. A slight bit of ammonia and some runnyness is a positive in the former, a flaw in the later.
posted by JPD at 8:21 AM on October 25, 2009

I asked this same question to my cheesemonger (fromgier) in Paris and he said, "they are exactly the same but have absolutely nothing in common." (Oui, c'est exactement la meme chose mais c'est rien a voir.)

First, you have to know whether you are talking about "real" brie and camembert or not. Real stuff is, by French law, made is a very specific way in only one small region and from milk produced in only that region. That alone creates some taste difference. This is the French concept of "terroir," which is that different soil and different environmental conditions create different flavors. In France, cheese can't be called camembert unless it comes from area around Camembert, France in Normandy. Same for brie, the best of which comes from a town called Meaux. The cheese will have a mark "A.O.C." on it. If it is not "A.O.C." it is not real camembert or brie and all rules are out the window. This means that there may be no difference between the two, because there are no rules stating that they must be made different ways. American brie often resembles camembert more than it does true brie, which may be contributing to your confusion.

Now, if you have real A.O.C. camembert vs. real A.O.C. brie, you will find that they are very, very different cheeses. As JPD mentioned, camembert is often eaten "riper," which makes it runnier and stronger. The brie can have a more "woody" or "earthy" flavor, while camembert will often be sharper, with a bite. I have to say that in my experience it is acceptable for brie to have a touch of ammonia, but I personally don't like it. Brie is sometimes eaten baked with fruit as in the US, but camembert rarely is. You can get real A.O.C. stuff at a Whole Foods- it would be worth getting some and trying it yourself. The cheesemongers there are often quite knowledgeable and can help you with some other, similar cheeses that you might like.

In France, camembert is more of the work-a-day cheese. In my experience camembert was often around the house on a day to day basis, while brie was something they would buy rarely or for pairing with certain wines. Camembert is used to make simple sandwiches (baguette, butter, camembert) at any bar. Note to those traveling in France: you can get these wonderful, cheap sandwiches at ANY bar. It will never be advertised or on a menu. Just ask. You'll never pay more than 5 euro, usually more like 3.
posted by ohio at 8:46 AM on October 25, 2009 [15 favorites]

My understanding is that camembert is not a real terroir cheese. Camembert was the cheese issued to the troops in World War II, so you can imagine how much they made. Camembert is the closest the French get to American cheese: it's the cheese every kid has in his lunchbox. It's made from milk that comes from all over the place, using an industrial process. (Of course it is actually cheese made from milk, it's not "processed cheese" made with soy oil.)

There is terroir camembert, but when you're talking about camembert, you're usually talking about the industrial cheese.

When I was in France in the 80's, the French used "camembert" as slang to mean about a dollar. "Yeah, that cost me fifty camemberts."
posted by musofire at 8:52 AM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

From the smell side you get a much stronger "cauliflower" smell from camembert than from brie, which is considerably milder.
posted by furtive at 10:38 AM on October 25, 2009

I do a bread that involves braiding the dough around a chunk of brie, then baking under a pyrex bowl on a pizza stone. With true brie, the cheese melts, bubbles, and ends up coating the braids for a nice silky, buttery, browned goodness. Camembert just ends up as soggy curds in the middle, with no bubbling and coating of the bread.
posted by yesster at 10:44 AM on October 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

There's no difference for industrial cheeses, American cheeses labelled "brie", etc. For true AOC French cheese I think of them having different flavours. Even a really good Camembert tastes like a simple cheese to me, mostly tasting of milk and maybe a bit of grass. Brie tastes more fruity and woody. That may just be the specific producers I've had access too, or conirmation bias, but when I'm at a place with a great cheese selection I always expect the Brie to be more exciting than Camembert.
posted by Nelson at 11:57 AM on October 25, 2009

Nelson got it. Brie is complex and mutable. You can actually deconstruct the flavors. Camembert taste is integrated and pretty uninteresting. Nice and reliable, but uninteresting.
posted by Pennyblack at 1:21 PM on October 25, 2009

Interesting way to put it -- to me (hardly a cheese snob), Camembert tastes intense, where Brie is bland.
posted by Rash at 2:34 PM on October 25, 2009

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