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Fate of France's Cheeses in Doubt as Producers Cite Health Risks

ard Roger, president of the newly-created Defence Committee for Authentic Camembert.

"What this is all about is the limits of mass marketing.

A behemoth like Lactalis cannot answer to the needs of the real Camembert -- which is not just a cheese but part of our culture," he said.

For cheese-lovers, the difference between a genuine Normandy "lait cru" Camembert and the common supermarket variety made with pasteurised milk is like the difference between vintage wine and a mass-produced "vin de table." "Camembert does not exist unless it is made with untreated milk.

'Lait cru' is what gives the richness, the taste, the originality.

If you heat the milk, you'll still have a cheese, but it won't be Camembert," said Roger.

Half a century ago there were scores of independent dairies across the Normandy region of northwest France making 'lait cru' Camembert, but now the number has dwindled to just five -- as Lactalis has steadily bought up nearly all the small family-run operations.

In 2006 Lactalis produced 8,000 tonnes of "real Camembert" -- alongside vast quantities of the pasteurised cheese -- but it has now stopped 'lait cru' for its best-selling brands Lepetit and Languetot.

Today the milk is heat-treated, though at a lower temperature than for full-blown pasteurisation.

With Isigny Cooperative following suit with a process of "microfiltration" that is also banned by AOC rules, overall production of 'lait cru' Camembert will fall by two-thirds this year from 12,500 to 4,000 tonnes.

"The big companies have launched a hostile take-over bid for Normandy Camembert," said Bertrand Gillot, whose Reo brand of 'lait cru' cheese has been manufactured by hand in the village of Lessay for 80 years.

"They have already introduced machines for pouring out the curds, while we continue to use hand-held ladles.

Now they are switching to treated milk, beca
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