The soft cheese, which smells a bit like feet, is on the “verge of extinction,” according to the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS). Other cheeses, including brie and various blues, are under threat, too, the group has warned.
Each hunk of Camembert or smear of brie is an ecosystem, an assortment of fungi and bacteria that turn milk fats and proteins into hundreds of different compounds. Those compounds produce the flavors, smells, and textures we love.
In recent decades, however, the genetic diversity of some of those microbes has caved. And today, some of the most famous French cheeses rely on just a single fragile strain of fungi that is at risk of dying out.
This is bad news for France, bad news for bread, and bad news for lovers of fine cheese the world over. And it’s a reminder that biodiversity matters, even when you can’t see it. Life’s finer things, indeed, depend on it.
To make cheese, producers typically take fresh milk and mix in bacteria and often fungi, including both yeasts and molds (fungi that tend to be fuzzy). Different microbe melanges produce different varieties of cheese.