I’m going to start with the end of the story.
This is the creamiest, dreamiest, most delicious cheese I have ever had. It’s Camembert from Camembert, France. Like a lot of people, I grew up eating things named after towns. It tickles me to no end that I can now go around visiting these places and eating products that have been traditionally made there for centuries.
In Normandy for several days, I knew one of them had to be devoted to my favourite soft cheese and its namesake town.
Camembert has been made for over 200 years. Legend has it that the cheese was first made in the late 1700s by a woman named Marie Harel after she received some advice from an Abbot born in Brie. The complete truth of the story is debatable, but Marie did make cheese in the local style and her descendants implemented its mass production.
Later, Camembert was included in the rations of French soldiers in World War I. During World War II, the German army took control of the region’s dairy resources. In spite of this, people continued making Camembert, barely recognisable as a fat-free cheese but still produced with a sense of tradition and normalcy.
Camembert is not the same as brie, but the two cheeses do share similar characteristics. Both have edible bloomy (fluffy) rinds, both are creamy and both vaguely taste a bit like mushrooms. They are both made from cow’s milk and (most importantly!) both are delicious at room temperature or baked into a bubbly and festive appetizer.
Camembert differs from brie in that it is slightly stronger and creamier. The cheeses are made in separate regions of France, which is a big deal with products of protected origins. Traditionally Camembert is made with unpasteurised milk, although imported Camembert is often made with pasteurised milk for food safety reasons.
I didn’t know what Camembert would look like before I went, but the town did not disappoint. Perched on a hill amidst rolling idyllic countryside, Camembert is barely a speck of civilisation amongst fields of grazing cows. Here’s how you get there via public transport and your own two legs.
I went to Camembert on a public transportation pilgrimage from my airbnb flat in Caen. Obviously you could drive there much easier, but I found it quite interesting to see more of the surrounding area at a slower pace. Duplicate the route yourself with these eight steps.
First Step: Train to Liseaux
I left for Lisieux on a 10.07 train from Caen. It costs 7.5 euros and takes around 30 minutes. With a couple of hours to kill, I headed into the town.
Lisieux has a ginormous hilltop basilica that is worth checking out. The town itself was decorated with flags for the 70th anniversary of D-day.
I stopped at a local bakery to get a piece of quiche Lorraine.
You could arrive in Lisieux a bit later if you wish. It’s not the most exciting place, but I didn’t mind being there for a couple of hours.
Second Step: Bus to Vimoutiers
The bus to Vimoutiers leaves Lisieux station at 12.27 (M-F) or 12.07 (Sa). The ticket is very reasonable and you can buy your return ticket at the same time. The journey takes around 45 minutes. Vimoutiers is a tiny and very quiet little town with some adorable scenery.
It’s also got a lot of history. In mid-June 1944 the town was bombed by the Allies and completely destroyed. In front of the cathedral there is a huge cauldron displayed with a sweet story of human connection during those dark days.
There is a WWII German Tiger tank in the area that’s one of only six remaining in the world. I didn’t see it though, because I was on a cheese mission to Camembert.
Third Step: A walk to Camembert
Vimoutiers has no public transport to speak of, not even taxis. Plus, arriving in the early afternoon means the tourist office is probably closed. I wandered for quite a bit before deciding the only way to get to Camembert was to walk. It’s five kilometres away, so be prepared for about an hour’s stroll through the countryside, or a short run if you’re into that sort of thing.
It’s a straighforward walk once you find the right direction out of town. If you’re standing in the main square with you back to the tourist office, cross the square to its southwest corner and walk along Rue de Moulin. Make a slight right on Rue Paul Creton, and then join the main road, Rue D’Argentan. Keep left at the fork and then make a right on D246. It’s signposted.
Then, just follow D246 for 3 kilometres. You’ll see cows out standing in the field on the way.
You’ll see the village of Camembert on your right. It’s just as cute and pastoral as you’d imagine.
Fourth Step: Love on the Cheese
Make the most of your couple of hours in Camembert by visiting the Maison du Camembert and tasting cheese. Your 3 euro ticket includes admission and a three-cheese tasting afterward.
Inside the museum, you’ll learn about the history of Camembert and how it’s made. It was quite dark inside and so hard to take photos, but these will give you an idea of what it’s like.
Across the road, it’s tasting time. In addition to Camembert, the store stocks three other famous cheese from the region: Livarot, Neufchâtel and Pont-l’Évêque. A board displays some information about each one.
And then, it’s time to taste! I loved all these Camembert variations, but one of them stole my foodie stomach and I bought the wheel you’ve seen above.
Another look at the verdant pastures surrounding Camembert and it’s time to go.
Fifth Step: Back to Vimoutiers
Take the same route you used to get to Camembert back to Vimoutiers. When you get tired, think of the cheese in your future.
Sixth Step: Bus it back to Lisieux
The bus back to Lisieux leaves Vimoutiers town centre at 17.25. It’s the last bus of the day so don’t miss it! You’ll arrive back at the station in Lisieux at around 18.05.
Seventh Step: Train to Caen
If you’re staying in Caen like I did, take the next train from Lisieux. You’ll be able to do this at 18.12 or 18.28. Again, the ticket is around 7.5 euros and the riding time is about 30 minutes.
Eighth Step: Get home and tear into your cheese
At this point, your wheel of Camembert has been in your bag for a few hours. Unwrap it and watch the rind breathing for a few moments. That squidgy-ness means gooood cheese. Have some of the deliciousness on a piece of French bread and share the wheel with your airbnb roommate – if he’s lucky.
Have you ever tried your favourite foods in their places of origin?