Marie Harel

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Marie Harel
Statue of Marie Harel in white stone
Replacement statue
Born(1761-04-28)April 28, 1761
DiedNovember 9, 1844(1844-11-09) (aged 83)
Nationality France
Known forInvention of Camembert Cheese

Marie Harel (born Marie Catherine Fontaine; April 28, 1761[1] – November 9, 1844) was a French cheesemaker, who, along with Abbot Charles-Jean Bonvoust, invented Camembert cheese, according to local legend.[2] She worked as a cheesemaker at the Manor of Beaumoncel and made Camembert cheeses according to local custom. Her main contribution was to have initiated a dynasty of entrepreneurial cheesemakers who developed the production of Camembert cheese on a large scale, notably her grandson Cyrille Paynel, born in 1817, who created a cheese factory in the commune of Le Mesnil-Mauger in Calvados at France.

Personal life[edit]

Marie Harel was born Marie Catherine Fontaine on April 28, 1761, at Crouttes (Orne), near Vimoutiers in Normandy. On May 10, 1785, in Camembert, Orne, she married Jacques Harel, a laborer at Roiville. She died November 9, 1844, at Vimoutiers, Orne.[3]

Invention of Camembert[edit]

Since the end of the 17th century, a renowned cheese was being produced in the Camembert region of Normandy. In his Geographic Dictionary, published in 1708, Thomas Corneille wrote: "Vimonstiers: [...] every Monday a large market is held, to which are brought excellent cheeses from Livarot and Camembert." However, according to a later legend which appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, the invention of Camembert cheese was attributed to Marie Harel who would have benefited from the advice of a refractory priest, Abbot Charles-Jean Bonvoust, who was hidden in 1796–97 at the Manor of Beaumoncel where she worked. Supposedly, he was a native of Brie and passed along to Marie a recipe for a kind of cheese with a bloomy edible rind, such as was produced in his native area. In reality, Bonvoust came from Pays de Caux. This apocryphal story, for which there is no evidence[citation needed], is still often accepted as true.

Marie Harel did make Camembert cheese, according to local custom. She initiated a dynasty of entrepreneurial cheese makers who produced Camembert cheese on a large scale, notably her grandson Cyrille Paynel, born in 1817, who created a cheese factory in the commune of Le Mesnil-Mauger in Calvados.

Damaged statue to Marie Harel

The success of the production of Camembert in the first half of the 19th century was largely due to the descendants of Harel, who considered themselves the only legitimate users of the designation "Camembert". However, beginning in 1870, other Norman cheese makers contested this family monopoly.

The town of Vimoutiers had a statue to her. On 14 June 1944, during the Battle of Normandy, Vimoutiers was bombarded by Allied forces. The village was destroyed and 220 people died. 400 people of Van Wert, Ohio contributed in the costs of reconstruction and reparation of the town including the replacement of Marie Harel's statue in 1953. This is recorded by a plaque in the market square of Vimoutiers.[4]

A legend says that she died in Champosoult, but actually it was her daughter, also named Marie (1781–1855), who died there.[5] Harel was also honored with a Google Doodle on the occasion of her 256th birthday in 2017.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Marie Harel's 256th Birthday". Retrieved 28 April 2017.
  2. ^ Kilpatrick, Ryan (28 April 2017). "Google Doodle Celebrates Inventor of Camembert Marie Harel". Time. Retrieved 28 April 2017.
  3. ^ Gérard Roger-Gervais, L'Esprit du camembert, Cheminements, 2005, p.53
  4. ^ The new statue and plaque, Wikimedia Commons, Retrieved 29 April 2017
  5. ^ Sarka-SPIP, Collectif. "CHAMPOSOULT (61) : cimetière - Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs".

Further reading[edit]

  • Pierre Boisard, Le Camembert, mythe français, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2007.