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Camembert purists drive Lactalis production shake-up

By Neil Merrett , 08-Oct-2008

France–based Lactalis is shutting down production at one of its sites amidst an ongoing battle of wills in the country over the ‘traditional’ manufacture of camembert cheese.

Group spokesperson Luc Morelon told DairyReporter.com that the production plant at Sainte-Marie-aux-Anglais, Normandy, is being shut down in an attempt to improve cost efficiency of the company’s overall operations.

Morelon said that Lactalis had been hit by its decision to turn away from using raw milk in some of its products.

AOC issues

Back in June this year, French authorities approved revisions to the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée, a system similar to the EU’s geographical indications (GI), that require specific guidelines on the production techniques and locations of certain foods.

Under the new guidelines, camembert cheese can only carry the AOC Camembert de Normandie if it is made from raw milk. Laclatis had ruled out using such products in its cheese, citing potential health concerns for consumers.

Press pressure

According to Lactalis, negative press reaction in France to its decision over raw milk has lead to a loss of contracts for the manufacture of some private label cheese products, meaning production at the site is no longer cost effective.

The company said it was therefore moving ahead with the plant closure.

“It is a move to improve cost efficiency, because the factory was under utilised,” stated Morelon.

The company says that all employees affected by the closure will be offered new positions at another factory just 15km away near St Maclou. Morelon added that production of the company’s own camembert brand Lepetit will also be transferred to another site following the closure.

Heat treatment

Lactalis has moved in recent years to using heat-treated milk - now not allowed under the AOC - in their camembert, over concerns of what it claims are minor, but nonetheless legitimate, safety risks from consuming the products.

The company itself says it uses thermised milk, a soft treatment for the product of no more than 60 degrees Celsius, which allows it to secure pathogens without changing the taste of the camembert.

AOC safety

On the AOC Camembert de Normandie website, the committee responsible for the standard claims that raw milk camembert worthy of its designation is bound by strict production techniques.

According to the AOC definition, milk used within the production must be fully compliant with legal requirements, with sourced livestock proven to be free of tuberculosis and brucellosis.

In addition, the milk used must also be free from condensed or dried forms of the product as well as colouring substances.

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