You don’t even have to be a die-hard cheese devotee to recognize the names of the famed French cheeses, Camembert and Brie…but do you know the difference? Good news: We got all the details you need to settle the Camembert vs. Brie question once and for all, so you can live your best dairy-loving life.
Camembert vs. Brie: What’s the Delicious Difference?
So, What's the Difference Between Camembert and Brie?
At first glance, Brie and Camembert—two of France’s most famous and widely available cheeses—seem to have a lot in common. For starters, they both come in wheels of creamy deliciousness. They’re also both made from cow’s milk and boast a white blooming rind and soft, spreadable texture. (Note: Traditionally, these cheeses are unpasteurized and thus have a bigger flavor profile—but you’ll have to head to France for that, since only pasteurized varieties are allowed to be sold stateside.)
Still, the two cheeses have their own unique story and plenty of characteristics that make them quite distinct—most, if not all, of which can be ascribed to terroir, which is a french term that refers to the region of production and the special flavor that the particular topography imparts (be it to wine or, in this case, cheese). Indeed, the history of both cheeses is relevant because the place-specific origins of Camembert and Brie point to differences that any palate can detect. Without further ado, here’s a quick glance at the storied pasts of both Camembert and Brie.
In order to meet strict production regulations and get the AOP seal of approval, denoting a protected region of origin, Brie cheese (pictured above) must be made in one of eight specific regions in the northeast of France, just outside Paris: Île-de-France, Seine-et-Marne, Loiret, Aube, Marne, Haut-Marne, Meuse and Yonne. Historically, all these regions shared a moniker with the namesake cheese and were, in fact, its birth place.
The first appearance of Brie is hard to pinpoint—namely because it is so old. Nevertheless, Brie is thought to date back to at least the eighth century. (Legend has it that the French Emperor Charlemagne indulged in Brie around the year 774, and sources report that it potentially came on the scene even sooner, having been made and introduced by monks in the 7th century.) Suffice it to say that Brie has aged well and certainly earned the restrictions put in place to protect its integrity.
Camembert (pictured above) is like Brie's little brother from another mother. Yep, this cheese is much younger—having been first created by Marie Harel in 1791, as reported by many cheese sources and confirmed by the Encyclopedia Britannica timeline—and hails from Normandy (another Northern region of France to the west of Brie’s birthplace). In fact, the Marie Harel connection is so strong that there are official guidelines in place that require the Camembert designation only be given to cheeses made in Normandy using techniques that align with the creator’s original method.
Glad you asked! There is indeed a size difference between Camembert and Brie. As reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, French cheesemaker and educator Ivan Larcher says that, traditionally, “Camembert is smaller, around 250g, and Brie is larger, the smallest being 400g and the largest being 1.2 kilograms.” As a result, Brie tends to ripen more slowly; however, it’s worth noting that this difference in size is less relevant when you’re shopping for mass-produced Brie and Camembert at the supermarket: Both these cheeses are now made on an industrial scale, which means these sizing standards (as with the unpasteurized rule) often fall by the wayside.
As previously mentioned, the flavor profile of cheese and wine are both heavily influenced by the climate and topography of the place in which they’re produced. For this reason, Brie and Camembert have subtle differences in taste. There's a lot of nuance in both types of cheese and they can really run the gamut based on both the artisan’s cheesemaking technique and environmental factors.
However, as a general rule, you can expect a milder and butterier flavor from Brie, with only hints of mushroom or fruit; whereas Camembert is typically a slightly denser cheese with a bolder, meatier taste—featuring a more pronounced earthy and mushroomy umami profile. In other words, if you’re looking for something pretty innocuous, Brie is a safe bet, while Camembert is preferred for dishes that call for a creamy cheese that makes a (slightly) bigger impression.
How to Best Enjoy Brie or Camembert
Follow the general rule described above (i.e., Brie is milder and Camembert bolder) when pairing these cheeses with any given food or drink…but the truth is that there’s so much to discover in both categories and no blanket rules apply to Brie and Camembert when it comes to taste. Your best bet is to simply sample and sample some more until you have familiarized yourself with a variety of Bries and Camemberts and are able to pick one that suits your needs. (After all, the fun of cheese-tasting is in the nuanced flavors.)
That said, it’s worth noting that every fromager and cheese-maker will agree that Brie and Camembert are best served after spending a brief period at room temperature—a cold refrigerator climate dulls the flavor and stiffens the cheese—and reliably pair well with crusty bread or cracker (neither will compete with the delicate flavor of the cheese) and Champagne or a light-bodied red wine, like Gamay or Beaujolais.