To the untrained eye, Brie and Camembert look very similar: both are flat, soft disks of white, mold-ripened cow’s milk cheese. They’re differences emerge only after you look to the original recipes for Brie de Melun and Camembert de Normandie. For starters, the recipe for Brie is much older, first appearing in 774, while Camembert was created more than a thousand years later, in 1791.
Traditional Brie is large and flat, measuring about 14 to 16 inches in diameter and between one and two inches tall. The surface area allows for more moisture evaporation during aging, which impacts both the texture and flavor of the cheese. By comparison, Camembert de Normandie is much smaller and more compact, around four to five inches in diameter and one and a half inches tall; as a result, it matures faster than Brie.
Although both cheeses are made in northern France, according to AOC law, Brie must be made in Île-de-France and Camembert in Normandy, two distinct regions. During production, the curd is handled in critically different ways. In crafting Camembert de Normandie, cheesemakers preserve moisture through minimal cutting before ladling the curd, using deep ladles without perforations. The molds are gradually filled, one ladle at a time, over the course of four hours. This technique, coupled with light pressing under a metal plate, makes for a more densely textured young cheese.
This step of ladling is different for Brie. The curd is cut, releasing more whey that is drained off. Cheesemakers use a unique ladle that is shallow and perforated; four or five ladles of curd fill molds that are set atop a mat made of local river reeds. The molds are filled more quickly and left to drain overnight without any additional weight, making for a less dense young cheese.
But do they taste different?
These differences translate into distinguishing flavors and textures in the finished cheeses: Camembert shows a heavier density in the mouth and an unforgettable flavor evocative of mushrooms, truffles, and wet hay versus Brie’s slightly brighter, tangier, even fruitier flavor. Even though the real raw-milk versions of both cheeses remain unavailable in the U.S. due to FDA regulations, the most true-to-form pasteurized Brie cheeses are available from Rouzaire in Tournan-en-Brie, while Isigny Sainte-Mère and the Ile de France brand in Normandy or Graindorge in Livarot make really good Camembert cheeses. But when it comes to picking a favorite, it’s your taste that counts, so try them both and see what you like best.