Marie Harel

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Marie Harel
Born Marie Catherine Fontaine
(1761-04-28)April 28, 1761
Crouttes (Orne Department, France)
Died November 9, 1844(1844-11-09) (aged 83)
Vimoutiers (Orne Department, France)
Nationality French
Known for Invention of Camembert cheese

Marie Harel, born Marie Catherine Fontaine on April 28, 1761, at Crouttes (Orne), near Vimoutiers in Normandy, died November 9, 1844, at Vimoutiers, Orne,[1] was the inventor of Camembert cheese with Abbot Charles-Jean Bonvoust.

Invention of Camembert[edit]

On May 10, 1785, in Camembert, Orne, she married Jacques Harel, a laborer at Roiville.

Since the end of the 17th century, a renowned cheese was being produced in the Camembert region. 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 the recipe for the preparation 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, is still often accepted as true.

Nonetheless, Marie Harel certainly existed, and made Camembert cheeses according to local custom. Her main contribution was to have initiated a dynasty of entrepreneurial cheese makers 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.

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

A statue of Marie Harel can be seen in Vimoutiers. A persistent legend has it that she died in Champosoult, but actually it was her daughter, also named Marie (1781-1855), who died there.[2]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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


  1. ^ Gérard Roger-Gervais, L'Esprit du camembert, Cheminements, 2005, p.53
  2. ^ Cimetières de France et d'ailleurs