The 5-minute essential guide to Normandy cheeses

From the manufacturing secrets to the reasons for those oh-so-subtle flavors... (almost) everything you ever wanted to know about the cheeses of Normandy, the birthplace of Camembert and homeland of milk cows down the ages…

The top 4 Normandy cheeses

No 1: Normandy camembert
No 2: Livarot
No 3: Pont-l’évêque
No 4: Neufchâtel
Please try not to mangle their names! These four cheeses all enjoy the AOC label – a testament to the regional expertise that goes in to their manufacturing.

Camembert vs cheddar

Peasants and farmers have been making cheese for personal consumption in France ever since 911. It was only in the 12th and 13th centuries that cheese production really grew, to prevent the English monopolising the cheese market with their cheddar. But putting all that history to one side, cheese is simply a part of us!

"Little angels"

That's what they called all cheeses in the Middle Age. But it becomes difficult to distinguish them in this case!

Here comes the colonel!

If Livarot cheese were a military man, it'd be a colonel. It has its own stripes: five strips of reed. The idea of putting a strap around the cheese dates back to the opening of the Paris-Lisieux-Caen railway line, which enabled it to conquer new lands. The straps helped the low-fat cheese avoid collapsing. A colonel has to stand up straight, after all!

100% Normandy love

Neufchâtel is as beautiful as a heart, but one that's crying out to be eaten! Legend has it that the cheese owes its shape to a tradition dating back to the Hundred Years War. The young Norman girls moulded it this way to declare their love to the English soldiers they offered it to. So if you're looking for an idea for the next Valentine's Day...

The smellier the better!

It's a fact: the cheeses with the strongest smells are also the ones with the most taste. A truly gluttonous experience for all the senses! Their aromatic power lies in the rind, which the ripeners have taken special care to wash and rewash to make it the most beautiful cheese on the tray. In the world ranking of the world's most fragrant cheeses, France has captured the top ten places. Normandy is proudly represented by the pont-l’évêque and the livarot, in 2nd and 8th position respectively.

Why is the pont-l’évêque reddish in color?

Recognisable by its rectangular shape, the rind of the pont-l’évêque is as stripey as a zebra. But where do these reddish stripes come from? From the "red bacterium", or "brevibacterium linens", to those in the know. It's added during the washing process to activate fermentation and keep the cheese nice and soft. It's a simple addition of color which doesn't affect the taste in the slightest but certainly adds a touch of charm!

Raw or pasteurised milk?

The French simply love raw milk cheeses – stronger in character and much tastier – you'd better believe it! And yet these cheeses are totally banned in some countries. So you'll just have to come to the land of raw milk to taste these forbidden pleasures. Why not start with a delicious camembert on a crusty slice of country bread?

The playlist for those who want to venture further

  • Villages to visit: Camembert, of course. Livarot, to learn all about how the cheese is made, and pont-l’évêque at the Graindorge cheese dairy (External link)
  • The must-see museum: the camembert museum in Vimoutier (External link) where you can leave with a cheese in a box bearing your image.
  • The must-watch film: La grande course au fromage, by Rasmus A. Sivertsen, a delight for kids and grown-ups alike.
  • The cookbook: Jean-François Mallet, Camembert Le Petit, Larousse, 2013.

Getting to Normandie