“How can one bring together a country with 265 different cheeses?”, General Charles de Gaulle is said to have remarked* after the divisive (and, for him, disappointing) 1951 French elections.
The answer to the General’s question is, you bring them all together under the warm embrace of the Golden Arches:
In its continuing efforts to incorporate French sensibilities into its menu abroad, tomorrow McDonald’s France will unleash a line of limited-edition burgers that feature such beloved French cheeses as Camembert, Comte, Chevre, and Raclette.
And, as The Australian reports, some French people are already pretty upset about the whole thing, with Camembert producers in particular complaining that they “feel used.”
Indeed, if reports are to believed, the nation of 265 fromages (or at least its arbiters of taste) are pretty much of a mind on this one:
Fast and Food conducted a professional taste test, concluding, “The slices of Camembert are rather smooth, lack strength, it’s really not the taste of Camembert that we know but something lighter. A number of customers will surely be disappointed…” L’Express makes the same point, writing that the cheese could even be confused with a Brie. McDonald’s France marketing director Nawal Trabelski tells the paper that the company, “had to find the happy medium between too strong and not enough” to be able to reach the greatest number of consumers.
Which is, in fact, the problem of cheesemakers everywhere. Bland = commercial success; powerful and complex = the applause of connoisseurs.
And it’s not just the taste-makers who are upset. The whole effort is looking to provoke French-on-French hatred of a sort not seen since at least 1848:
Patrick Mercier, chairman of an association of Camembert producers in Normandy, tells the newspaper that McDonald’s never consulted with the organization on the McCamembert. Though Basse-Normandie reports that Camembert is the second most popular cheese in France, its name is not protected. Therefore, non-Normandy producers are able to label their cheese “Camembert” outside of the AOC Camembert de Normandie. Mercier says that the McDonald’s version is “as bottom of the market as you can get. It comes from Brittany.”
Brittany. Can’t go any lower than that, apparently.
* The General: Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved, Jonathan Fenby, p. 348