Norman cheeses 

Cheeses in Normandy

Nowadays Normandy is the leading region in France for the production of cheese. This success is due to its wonderful soil but also to a long tradition of cheesemaking.

Geography

Cheeses are produced almost everywhere in Normandy, but the cheesemaking industry is highly developed in only two parts of it : the Auge country ("le Pays d'Auge") and the Bray country ("le Pays de Bray").

The first one extends over three French departments (Orne, Calvados and Eure). It produces Camembert, Livarot and Pont-l'Evèque and is generally specialized in soft flowered rind cheeses

The second one (the Bray country) is located in the eastern part of Normandy in the "Seine Maritime" (a French department) and is the birthplace of Neufchâtel. This area is generallly specialized in soft flowered rind cheeses and in double and triple cremes.

History

Since the early hours of Normandy in 911 A.D. (and even previous to that), cheeses have been made in Normandy. Throughout the Middle Ages cheesemaking was only considered as a part of farm activity. Nevertheless, in Normandy it soon became a bit more important than in other French regions (proof of this is that taxes on cheeses were rapidly created). We know, for example, that the Duke Richard gave to the Saint-Sauveur Abbey in Evreux the amount of the taxes on cheese collected in Quitteboeuf.

For centuries, the Bray country was the main centre of the Norman cheese industry; the Auge country was a mixed farming area also specialized in textiles.

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During the XIIth and XIIIth centuries Norman dairies had to face the competition from the English ones. At that time English cheeses were famous and well-known in Normandy - each year dozens of them were imported into Normandy. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a golden age for the Norman dairies, which benefited from numerous "technology" exchanges with England.

We know little about the cheeses produced in those days : nothing about their genuine recipes, their shapes, or their tastes. Moreover, thay were sold under the generic brand "Angelots" whatever their real type. Fortunately some of the more typical ones became famous and began to be named according to the name of their birth place or to the name of market where they could be found. That's how the Livarot, the Pont-l'Evèque and the Neuchâtel got their names.

Until the end of the XVIIIth century, things didn't change, although some of the cheeses became well known in France and particularly in Paris - and sometimes in England. Nevertheless, the production remained low due to the difficulties of selling cheeses far from the production dairies.

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The XIXth century new technologies inverted this situation. The cheesemaking methods, the introduction of machines, the use of wood boxes, but also the railroads and even later the automobile, changed the collection of the milk, the production of cheese and its distribution. These changes were rapidly adopted in the Auge country where traditionnal agriculture was going through a crisis. A high number of farms/dairies were created, where the women were first in charge of the cheeses. Throughout this century the size of these "farms" had increased, and at the end of the XIX the century the production was dominated by large families of cheesesmakers.

This success is perfectly embodied by its youngest representative: the Camembert cheese.

The XXth century was marked by the foundation of large multinational companies and of large cooperatives. At the same time, cheesemaking became more and more industrialized.