And on...to the pays de Marie Harel...
About an away from Courtomer, we crossed the bridge over the river Vie at Livarot and stopped for tea at Vimoutiers. Here in the square is a statue of Marie Harel -- credited with the invention of Camembert cheese.
The story takes place during the high drama of the French Revolution...when Marie was aided in her work by the cheese-making secrets of a hidden priest. The abbé Charles-Jean Bonvoust was a "prêtre réfractaire," who refused to swear obedience to the Revolutionary authorities (rather than to God and the Pope). To avoid imprisonment and death, he went into hiding at the Manoir de Beaumoncel near Vimoutiers. (Visits during summer months.) Having been born in Brie, the abbé was able to pass on to his kind protectrice the secret of making a soft, savoury, creamy cow's milk cheese.
Like all good stories, this one is contested. There was a cheese named Camembert long before...the famous Corneille dictionary of 1708 mentions a market every Monday at Vimoutiers, "where one may buy the excellent cheeses of Livarot and Camembert." And pettifogging historians insist that the abbé was actually from the "pays de Caux" to the West of Vimoutiers, rather than from Brie, which is East of Paris.