Pierre Boisard

Camembert Cheese: A French Myth Publication date : May 25, 2007

Charles de Gaulle reportedly told Winston Churchill that a country with as many varieties of cheese as France was next to impossible to govern. Far from being a witticism, this remark illustrates the great diversity of France, which despite its modernity remains excessively centralised. But De Gaulle could have added that luckily there was something the French agreed on, and that was Camembert.
Since the 1920s Camembert has been the single most popular cheese in a nation of cheese lovers, and the rest of the world tends to associate Camembert with France. Such powerful identification can be neither fortuitous nor meaningless. What are the profound reasons? Could it be that Camembert, like the yam in some Amazonian cultures, is both a favoured food and a mythical object onto which the whole group projects its history?
Rather that recount the actual history of Camembert, Pierre Boisard explores every dimension of the Camembert myth — a myth that serves to reveal the history and obsessions of the French. This is a fascinating book, written in the light-hearted vein of Roland Barthes’ famous Mythologies.
The author reveals everything you ever wanted to know about the deep meaning behind this popular French cheese — since it was invented by Marie Harel in the late eighteenth century to its present-day pre-eminence in French supermarkets — including what it symbolises, its folkloric and chauvinistic image, and the economic factors at stake.
This enthralling book about a popular cheese tells us more about the French than many hefty volumes of history.

A sociologist specialising in work and employment, Pierre Boisard is a research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).