Camembert and Brie cheese seem quite similar at first glance. Both are soft cheeses with a characteristic white rind, and their flavors are alike in many ways. However, the two cheeses differ in some small but significant ways.
Origin and Production
Camembert and Brie both come from northern France -- Camembert from Normandy and Brie from the Ile-de-France region near Paris. Both are made from cows' milk and, after curdling, both are coated with mold. The mold used in Camembert is called Penicillium camemberti; the same mold is sometimes used for Brie. The mold forms a rind around the cheese, breaking it down and creating a characteristic creamy texture.
Although these methods are basically similar, one key difference separates Brie from Camembert. Traditionally, Camembert wheels are much smaller than Brie. A wheel of Brie can be up to 15 inches across, while a Camembert wheel is only about 4.5 inches in diameter. The result is that the ratio of rind to cheese in Camembert is much higher; Camembert therefore matures much more quickly, making it softer and more sharply flavored than Brie of a comparable age. In addition, Brie typically has a higher level of milk fat due to added cream.
Flavor and Texture
Brie is typically milder than Camembert, with a buttery flavor. By contrast, Camembert has a strong flavor with hints of nuttiness or mushrooms. Brie should be soft to the touch, with a springy rind, but mature Camembert can even be runny. As with all cheeses, there is a great deal of variation within the two types; Brie or Camembert may be milder or sharper depending on the manufacturer, the age of the cheese or even the time of year.
For the authentic Camembert experience, serious cheese lovers eat Camembert de Normandie, made with lait cru or unpasteurized milk. However, you won't find this cheese in the United States; safety regulations prohibit cheese made with unpasteurized milk.
Serving Brie and Camembert
Although these cheeses should be refrigerated to preserve them, you don't want to serve either cold; low temperatures will make them firmer than they should be and spoil their aromas. Let them warm up to room temperature before serving. Crusty French bread is the traditional accompaniment; both cheeses go well with red wine, although mild Brie will pair better with a bold red than Camembert will. As a Norman cheese, Camembert is also traditionally paired with hard cider or with Calvados. Camembert is also sometimes baked in its traditional round wooden box.