Monday, February 15, 2010

French food regulation

One of the things I did while visiting France was to take a trip to Normandy and watch a presentation about the regional products including camembert cheese and apple cider. I was struck by organized the French are regarding food production! Are you familiar with Geographic Indicators? Internationally, these are applied by the WTO to protect the integrity of food products particular to a specific regional tradition, ie Champagne only comes from Champagne and everything else is a "sparkling wine." In France, there are regulations about where a cow can eat if it's milk will be used to make camembert. If some renegade cow should escape and start eating grass from an area outside the cambembert region, its milk cannot be used to produce this particular cheese because that grass is different, so the milk will be different and change the taste of the cheese. Interesting huh? Camembert cheese is just an example, the same is true for wines, cider and a whole host of other French food products.

While listening to this presentation I was struck by how unorganized US food production seems in comparison, when it comes to producing quality products at least. At the same time, I'm not entirely sure that a cow eating grass a few miles away will really change the taste of the cheese all that much. However, at least you know what you are buying and where it came from. While this would limit the quantity that can be produced, after all only so many grapes can be grown in a season in Champagne, it would ensure that everything was produced at top quality.

Other interesting info on Camembert
*It takes 15 days to produce the cheese, mostly to let it dry.
*It is NOT pasteurized. The presenter took real issue with US food regulations requiring cheese to be pasteurized and in his opinion this is the reason for the lack of quality cheese in the US. I'm not sure this is the reason, but I can't deny that France has way better cheese.
*It takes 2.5 Liters (about 2.5 quarts) of milk to make 1 round of camembert cheese.
*Each ball of cheese must be put into a container individually to drain. Traditionally this was all done by hand but now it is sometimes mechanized.

Interesting notes on Cider ("cidre" in French) from Normandy
*Production is also governed by geographic identifiers and food regulation boards.
*There are 1000 different varieties of apple grown in the region and all can be used for cider.
* The cider is not distilled and about 5% alcohol.
* Distilling the cider once will make Portos (sp?) which is more alcoholic and the one I tried was also sweeter.
* Distilling the cider a second time will make calvados, an apple brandy from the Normandy region. The calvados was very sweet and much more alcoholic than either the cider or Portos. Aged calvados (10, 20, 40 years) is considered to be better but is much more expensive because as it ages it evaporates and you have less and less calvados in the barrel. You can mix two aging calvados' together but if they are not the same age, the final product is all the young age. For example, if you mix a 40 year calvados and a 10 year the final product is all a 10 year calvados.

My favorite was by far the cider. All the different kinds of cider I sampled were good but the best was a blackberry-apple blend.

It would be nice to see the quality artisan producers in the United States to become more organized, like those in France, and promote their products as regional specialties not just nationally, but internationally. While there are brands that do this now, it would nice to see more regulation regarding the quality of production in the US and less that encourages quantity (and overeating).

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