The true story of the camembert cheese ! and later on ... 1926 : Dr Joseph Knirim to Marie Harel and Camembert Cheese



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Dr Knirim, Marie Harel & camembert cheese


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2nd statue of Marie Harel 



[Marie Harel, 1761 Crouttes-1844 Vimoutiers] It is said that Marie Harel, born in 1761 in Crouttes (Crouptes), a hamlet near Vimoutiers, would not have invented the cheese already mentioned in the General Geographic and Historical Dictionary of Thomas Corneille in 1708. But it is undoubtedly recognized that : according to a recusant priest's advices, l'abbé Charles-Jean Bonvoust, and to whom she had given refuge during the revolutionary period, she "dressed" the Camembert cheese with its famous crust, modifying thus decisively the identity of this previously “white” cheese.

That occurred at the Farm Manor of Beaumoncel on the hills of Camembert … some five kms from the market place of Vimoutiers where Marie used to sell her cheeses.  Her daughter, Marie Paynel, and her husband develop the production, and later, seizing the opportunity of the inauguration of the railway line Paris-Granville by Napoleon III (unless it be a journey by Napoléon III to attend horse races in Le Haras du Pin) the grandson Victor Paynel has the idea to propose the cheese to the Emperor. He meets him in Surdon station on August 10, 1863. The Emperor tastes Camembert cheese, likes it ... so much that he orders regular deliveries to the Tuileries Palace.

No longer any doubt, the notoriety of Camembert cheese and Marie Harel is then famous and has already crossed the borders when:

Camembert village nowadays


1926 March 14th, on the market place of Vimoutiers, an unknown man knocks on the door of the Gavin pharmacy ...

In an attempt to make him better understood, the man takes from his pocket a document printed in French :



"Savarin, the famous epicure, said that it was more worthwhile to invent a new dish than to discover a new star. How much more precious, therefore, must be the invention of a new dish of equal benefit to both the sick and to those who enjoy good health. This is the great merit of the late Madame Harel’s discovery. I have travelled thousands of miles to come to honor her at the monument erected in her memory, and had I known the history of Camembert cheese earlier, I would have made this pilgrimage long ago. France possesses many cheeses, all of which are excellent, but when it comes to digestibility, Madame Harel’s cheese, the “véritable Norman Camembert,” is surely the best. Years ago, I suffered for several months from indigestion, and Camembert was practically the sole nourishment that my stomach and intestines were able to tolerate.



Since then, I have sung the praises of Camembert, I have introduced it to thousands of gourmets, and I myself eat it two or three times a day.

I shall never tire of describing the value of this wonderful product of your town, and in my efforts to convince the doubters, I have asked them to engage in an impartial trial. May Camembert’s popularity increase the world over and may your town produce other benefactors of mankind to equal Madame Harel. In humble expression of my great admiration for Camembert cheese, which is shared by thousands of friends in the United States, I have brought with me across the waters this wreath of flowers to lay on the monument of our common benefactoress.

May the French and American flags be forever united in the service of mankind".


Joseph KNIRIM, Mars 1926 March, Camembert, France




The event is serious for the chief town of the district... George Dentu, Doctor and also the mayor, comes immediately It is that Joe KNIRIM, American* Doctor* arrives from New York. He assures that he cured many patients with for only remedy : the Camembert cheese… And he crossed the Atlantic with the sole purpose of laying a sheaf of flowers on Marie Harel's grave … but nobody can say where Marie is buried… Finally, Joe Knirim is shown to the tomb of those who gave birth to the “Benefactress of humanity”, they rest in Champosoult** … honor is safe!

A sumptuous lunch ... when dessert is served, Joe Knirim thanks his hosts and with 20 dlrs offered at once, he opens the subscription which will allow the inauguration, on April 7, 1928, of the statue of Marie Harel, unveiled by Alexandre Millerand, former President of the Republic !

It is an unforgettable day which “the Illustration” newspaper will report … Unfortunately, when Mr the Mayor invited Joe for the great day, he received a telegram from New York: “Dr. KNIRIM IS DEAD”!


The best beer and the best philosophy in New York" :

* Actually, the Joseph Knirim, aka the "Doctor", "Herr Doctor of Hanover square", for his therapist talents, had a kind of bar/restaurant/"sanitarium in the evening", aka the "Eats and Pilsner Sanitarium", where he used to serve lukewarm Pilsner beer and camembert to his stressed "patients" to cure their digestive problems... He kew of the virtues of honest beer from his childhood in Germersheim, in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where he remembered the hausfraw administering boiled hot beer to the children for cold and fevers. It is when he heard of Viennese specialists who prescribed the diet of PILSNER URQUELL beer and CAMEMBERT for "stomach treatment", that he decided to apply it to himself with amazing success. Then, he decided to promulgate its virtue to others. What he did for 42 years in New York, Pearl street in Hanover Square ... In 1926, on March the 3rd, he leaved New York confiding that he would live somewhere near Prague, after he had placed a wreast upon the monument recently erected in Normandy to MARIE HAREL, who first found the formula for making Camembert cheese. (Source The New York Sun 23rd february, 1926 n more). Joseph Knirim finally died the following year in New York, at the age of 63.

  ** We now know that Marie Harel was buried in Vimoutiers...




Brillat Savarin


Sculpted by Eugène L'Höest



And what happened to the statue of Marie-Harel ? ...



About The GENUINE "camembert de Normandie" :


Le camembert - 01/01/1927 - 13min13s


Source INA : Silent movie Manufacturing camembert in Normandy.  Production : Ministère de l'Agriculture


For a genuine camembert, always, always choose : a "camembert DE Normandie" - it is imperative that it be AOP  





Protected Designation of Origin (AOP - AOC)

Camembert of Normandy

Production and economy of "Camembert de Normandy"

Camembert, a national myth

Raw milk



Sources :- l'Illustration" Picture collection©webmaster -

- Bulletin n°29 offered by the Historical Society of Vimoutiers, M.Ch.Boullard - "Camembert, a national myth" by P. Boisard -