Small French producers win ‘battle of Camembert’ on Normandy origins

The highest administrative court has ruled that large non-AOP producers cannot state ‘made in Normandy’ on their packaging

A view of the Camembert village sign and a Camembert AOP cheese
The rulings state that non-AOP Camembert cheeses must remove any references to Normandy origin from their packaging
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Small French producers of France’s famous Camembert cheese have won their battle to require some industrial manufacturers to change their packaging to remove certain references to Normandy.

The supreme administrative court le Conseil d'État has ruled that non-AOP Camembert cheeses must remove any references to Normandy origin from their packaging.

The first ruling referred to Lanquetot camemberts, made by the fromagerie d'Orbec, a subsidiary of the dairy giant Lactalis. The second decision referred to Cœur de Lion and Le Rustique camembert, which are two cheeses made by Compagnie des fromages et Richesmonts, a subsidiary of the industrial Savencia group.

However, there are some nuances to the ruling: for example, Lactalis is still permitted to use the Norman coat of arms on its Lanquetot packaging but must remove the ‘fabriqué en Normandie’ label from all of the cheeses it exports or sells to restaurants.

‘Battle of the Camembert’

The rulings represent a win in the long-running ‘battle of the Camembert’ between small AOP (appellation d'origine contrôlée, a geographical designation for traditional products) producers and larger industrial manufacturers.

Read more: Chefs sign letter in defence of Camembert amid AOP row

The disagreement goes back to the regulations surrounding the use of the label ‘Camembert de Normandie’ .This is only allowed to be used by AOP Camemberts only, excluding those made from pasteurised milk.

But before the ruling, manufacturers took advantage of an ambiguity in the rules, and used variations of the phrase ‘made in Normandy’ on their packaging, sparking the ire of small AOP producers.

This is despite the consumer affairs and fraud office the DGCCRF having ruled, in July 2020, in favour of the small producers. It stated that ‘made in Normandy’ was only allowed to be shown on Camemberts that comply with AOP specifications.

Read more: Camembert ruling ends 20-year cheese war - for now

Yet, it found that manufacturers were still using references to Normandy, such as ‘made in Orne’ or ‘au bon lait normand (made with good Normandy milk)’, even though they could no longer say ‘made in Normandy’. The DGCCRF then called for clarification on the issue, prompting the court cases.

Big cheese fights back

But the industrial manufacturers are attempting to fight back.

Lactalis and Savencia have both applied to the administrative courts to have the packaging ruling suspended pending further investigation. Both groups previously won separate cases on the issue in court in 2022.

Camembert context

There has been an AOC label since 1982 for ‘camembert de Normandie’, and an AOP since 1996. These specifically protect this specific name, although other ‘Camembert-like’ cheeses can be made anywhere.

‘Real’ Camembert cheese originated in the village of Camembert (Orne), where it is said to have been perfected in the 18th century by a farmer, Marie Harel, with help from a priest.

Genuine Camembert de Normandie must be made traditionally from lait cru - unpasteurised milk - unlike most other camemberts; and must, of course, be made only in Normandy, from local milk.

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