Raw milk camembert rule approved

By Neil Merrett

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cheese Milk

French authorities have approved revisions for the production of
camembert cheese, which only allows products derived from raw milk
to carry the sought after AOC Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) Camembert
de Normandie.

An AOC is a French designation and label similar to the EU's geographical indications (GI) system, which requires certain French goods like cheeses and wines linked to specific areas of the country to meet strict production guidelines.

The approval this week of the designation by the dairy, food and forestry committee of the Institut National de l'Origine et de la qualite (INAO), which is responsible for the AOC system, will be seen as a victory for smaller artisan cheese makers.

Larger dairy producers in the country such as processor Lactalis have moved in recent years to using heat-treated milk - now not allowed under the AOC - in their camembert over what it calls a minor, but nonetheless legitimate, safety risk.

Despite these concerns, a committee representing the Normandy-based producers belonging to AOC, which helped draw up the new guidelines back in March, said the proposals were designed to ensure both the safety and quality of the final product.

On the AOC Camembert de Normandie website, the committee claims that raw milk camembert worthy of the designation was 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, and colouring substances.

However, earlier this year, Lactalis spokesperson Luc Morelon said that under the latest specifications, Lactalis would not wish to claim the designation for its own camembert products, as it refused to use raw milk in the cheese.

He pointed to the occurrence of pathogenic micro-organisms in the product that makes raw milk a potential danger.

Morelon cited a case in 2005, where five children in the country were hospitalised because of an alleged contamination of E. coli 026 in some raw milk camembert.

He stated that while the risk may be weak, it exists nonetheless and could not be ignored by Lactalis.

"We have strong brands and well known products, with strong consumer confidence, and we cannot accept to take a risk on that issue," Morelon said.

"It is quite unacceptable."

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

Thermised milk is not allowed in cheese permitted under the AOC, though Morelon claimed that the recent decision made on the designation were distorted in favour of raw milk manufacturers.

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