Paris  Personal Tours

(where you find out that it's as difficult to find a real guide than it is to find a real Camembert cheese)

AOP label was given to "Camembert de Normandie" which stipulates that it can only be made from raw unpasteurized milk of Normandy cows which have grazed outdoors a minimum of 6 months a year.

But the problem is that industrials don't like to handle "raw milk" ("lait cru") because it's a living substance which necessitates frequent and costly bacterial controls. They prefer to use pasteurized milk, not only to save costs in the process but also because pasteurized-milk-made-Camembert is easier to handle, store, transport and it can stay much longer on the shelves of the supermarkets.

In 1998, the big industrial corporations first tried to "negotiate" with the legal institutions in order to authorize the use of pasteurized milk while retaining the AOP. The media was alerted, the French started to take up arms in order to defend one of their national emblems, the industrials backed down. But then they later decided to stop using raw milk all the same : they now use pasteurized milk which comes from all of France's big cooperatives and, in their factories, they now blend those low-cost milks together to produce around 800.000 Camembert per day while the only remaining farm making Camembert in the small town of Camembert itself, with a cattle herd of 90, can produce a maximum of 800 per day!

Now, French industrials were very sneaky as they suddenly stopped to write "Camembert de Normandie" on the box : they wrote "Fabriqué en Normandie" instead while keeping the same appearance, the same wooden box, the Normand cows on the label where they still write, as a supposed proof of authenticity, "moulé à la louche" ("ladled into a mold") even though it's machine-ladled and not hand-ladled anymore...

Do you understand now why you can find 30 different brands of Camembert at around 2€ a piece in the supermarkets while a real Camembert is generally sold around 6€?

Do you know the difference between a

"Camembert de Normandie" and a "Camembert fabriqué en Normandie"?

Well, the first one is the real thing, the second one is a fake.

And what if I told you than only 4.2% of the Camemberts eaten and sold in France are the real thing?

And (you'd never have guessed) 95.8% are fake? Would you call me "insane"? I wish... Let me explain:

I won't tell you here the whole story of the Camembert cheese (how and when it was invented, how it's made, I keep all that for when I see you !). Let's just say for now that Camembert was only protected with an AOP ("Appellation d'Origine Protégée" which you could translate by "Protected Designation of Origin") in 1996. This AOP label was given to make sure that Camembert cheese is made within a strict geographical area (only a certain part of Normandy) and that it continues to be made according to ancestral methods.  

(you may rightly have felt inclined to ask for quite a while)

Well, we professional guides have the same problem! Please hear this:

On most of the Paris-guided-tours-websites you visited before you landed on mine, unless when specifically mentioned that the "driver-guides are professionally qualified and licensed tourist guides", most of the "fully professional private driver-guides", when they say they have "been a tour guide for so long", or that they are a "licensed driver-guide", in a lot of cases, the only license/diploma they have is their driving license... and only in best cases are they legal to transport people, meaning that they have the special license (which Uber drivers have and which is compulsory by law to have when you make driving people around your profession) and have a proper insurance.

The problem, you see, is that there is no AOP for "Driver-guides" and anything goes...

First by studying history, history of art and getting the cultural knowledge, then by obtaining professional certification,

and then by covering the grounds again and again

until you know most of the places by heart.

You don't improvise yourself a professional guide...

you become one.

I'm sorry to have bothered (maybe bored) you for a while

but I owed it to my fellow colleagues (and to myself) to say all this.

It's getting late, isn't it?

OK maybe I got a little carried away here...

And, NEWSFLASH: I just heard that some "official board" announced (Feb. 2018)

that starting 2021 the specification to make "camember de Normandie" changes

and it will henceworth be allowed to use pasteurized milk !

SACREBLEU!        I guess the industrials finally won...

In the end, all I'm saying is:

And the danger for you to use a non-licensed guide is that you may be given wrong information that you'll assume it's true because it supposedly comes from an "authority" while, in fact, the "authority" isn't one. Indeed, I quite often overhear some "self-proclaimed-guides" boasting that Napoleon was short or that, for his coronation, he unexpectedly grabbed the crown out of the Pope's hands to put it over his head and, boy, does that irritate me…

Even though I enjoy making fun of historical facts (I really do), I nevertheless do take a lot of pride, like most of my official colleagues, in asserting the accuracy of my sources. Because I simply see my job as a way to entertain you while at the same time making sure that you know that the two above stated facts about Napoleon are false and also that Marie-Antoinette never said « let them eat cake » and that the Man in the iron mask (who really existed) was not the twin brother of Louis the 14th.



Now, where am I getting at? Simply this: most industrial Camemberts are bad, but you can honestly still find some which are "not so bad" (especially if they're ripe enough), but no matter how good a "Camembert made in Normandy" is, its taste, compared to a "Camembert de Normandie", is as different as a drawing by your 4-year-old-nephew compared to a painting by Monet!

And if you sign up for a tour with me (wouldn't that be nice?), wherever we are in France, we can make a short stop in a proper cheese shop for you to buy a real Camembert that you can later savor in your hotel room (with a bottle of wine) (that I can help you buy as well) (and which I can help you drink as well but that's another story...).

And if you're into cheese and you want to visit Normandy, I can bring you to the towns of Camembert, Livarot, Pont-Lévêque, Neufchâtel for the fun (and the taste) of it!

What do you say?

For me, a "driver-guide" is an inadequate catch-all designation which doesn't stipulate if the guide is an officially licensed-guide or not, or if he has a legal transportation license with a proper insurance or not. Quite often the driver is just a driver (working for an agency or self-employed), he/she speaks a couple languages, has learned how to perform a few tours with a few gimmicks and, when you arrive at each destination, he/she provides you with prepaid skip-the-line tickets and gives you an audio-guide for a "self-guided visit"... Now, there's nothing wrong with you paying for a "guide who will provide you with an audio-guide" because that option gives you the possibility of having a private driver-secretary who quite often has learned his/her routine and timing well so that he/she can bring you efficiently from one self-guided experience to another in a well-trained pattern.

Please understand I don't want to downgrade that kind of offer at all: all I want is to upgrade MY services compared to that, so that you can decide if you're happy to have an assistant to help you make the most of your time or if you'd rather hire an "AOP" fully-licensed-guide who can maybe meet higher demands and guide you INSIDE the museums. That's all I'm saying...

About fake guides and fake Camembert

But what on earth does Camembert have to do with Tourist guides?