Brie and Camembert are often grouped together because of their similarities. These Northern French cheeses look alike with white, bloomy rinds and pale interiors and they both ripen closest to the rind first.
Both Brie and Camembert are made from cow's milk and are soft-ripened and creamy in texture. Their flavors are considered to be similar, as well as the recipes and techniques used by cheesemakers for both Brie and Camembert. But as alike as these two kinds of cheese may seem, there are some distinct differences.
Origins of Brie and Camembert
The general consensus is that Brie has been around longer (perhaps since the 7th or 8th century), and Camembert came about in the mid to late 1700s. Although they are both from the north of France, Brie is made in Ile-de-France (Brie is the name of a region, also called Seine-et-Marne, within Ile-de-France) while Camembert is made in Normandy, a good three hours away.
Production of French Cheeses
Although the cheese-making techniques are similar for Brie and Camembert, during the process of making Brie cream is added, while it is not added to Camembert. This results in a higher milk fat percentage in Brie (60 percent) compared to the 45-percent milk fat of Camembert, making Brie creamier. Brie is distinguished by how much cream is added, and it will be labeled "double cream" or "triple cream."
Another difference during production is the number of times the lactic starters are added to the cheese. For Brie, it is only introduced once at the beginning. When making Camembert the lactic starter is added five times during the cheese-making process. This results in Brie having a more mild flavor than Camembert.
Traditional French Brie and Camembert are made with raw milk. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that all cheeses made with raw milk be aged at least 60 days before being sold in the United States. Brie and Camembert are aged less than 60 days. So the French and American versions of Brie and Camembert that are aged less than 60 days and sold in the U.S. are always made from pasteurized milk.
Flavors of Brie and Camembert
Brie is milder with a buttery, creamy flavor while Camembert has more intense, deeper earthy notes. However, Brie and Camembert have flavor profiles that are almost identical: Both are often described as tasting mushroomy, eggy, garlicky, nutty, milky, grassy and/or fruity.
There are subtle flavor variations between the two, but these can be hard to detect, especially when so many versions of Brie and Camembert are factory-produced and made from pasteurized milk. The texture of both Brie and Camembert is also very similar, although Camembert tends to be denser and Brie is a bit runnier.
Distinct Size Differences
This is where the two kinds of cheese really stand apart. A wheel of Brie is very large, between 9 and 14 inches in diameter, while a wheel of Camembert is smaller, only about 5 inches across.
Because of Brie's size, it is most often sold in pie-shaped slices, whereas you will find Camembert available in whole 8-ounce wheels. To create confusion, however, "baby Brie" is now being sold in wheels similar in size to Camembert. But it should be carefully labeled as such.