A sight that made my knees weak...
The village of Camembert seems disproportionately small compared to its thunderous name.
Here, you will find a museum of the history of Camembert (the product, not the town), and a gift shop in the shape of a box of Camembert. In order to make a camembert cheese, your milk has to come from cows in the surrounding region.
The whole area is overrun with happy bovines.
Tastings of the fragrant fromage abound...
Sadly, the enormous producer that makes President has threatened the way of life of the few small producers. President makes an industrialized, pasteurized product meant for the mass market- you can get this cheese in New York and it taste much the same as it does in Normandy. The smaller farms concentrate on gorgeous raw-milk cheese ("au lait cru" in French) that take three times as long to age and are still made by hand every step of the way. The difference in taste between the raw-milk and the pasteurized cheese is enormous. While the President cheese tastes bland and has a rubbery texture, the raw milk cheese has a fragrance of flowers and grass and herbs that cooking the milk in pasteurization destroys. At room temperature (which is the only temperature that you should be eating good cheese), it gets slightly runny and it fills the room with the distinctive "Le pied de Dieu" scent, with the soft downy rind holding everything together. It's night and day. The old way of doing things is simply better. If the few that preserve this method disappear, so does this cheese in its perfect form.
Francios Durand is one of those producers and this might have been one of the best bits of fromage I've ever had the pleasure of sinking my teeth into. They actually call him the last of the Mohicans here. Really. Here's an article from the NY Times from a few years back about him.
You can visit his dairy farm and see the whole process in action, or visit one of the dairies he sources milk from.
Not to slight them, but the towns of Livarot and Pont-l’Évêque are nearby as well and worth a visit. Livarot has a large museum and shop that covers a good portion of Normandy cheese.