White rind, soft, earthy flavour with mushroomy notes. The traditional Brie from France’s best producer; Dongé. Ripe Brie is characterized by a white rind speckled with brown and reddish spots, especially on the edge of the cheese. Though not liquid, and although the cheese should have an aroma of mould it should not smell overpoweringly of ammonia. If you come across perfectly ripe brie buy it and eat it within a day or so, because once it is at that perfect point of ripeness, it is likely to dis-improve rapidly.
Brie de Meaux, ‘The King of Cheeses’, is, along with Camembert, the best known of all the soft cheeses in France. This soft, mould rind cheese is made with raw cow’s milk and takes it’s name from the town of Meaux some 50km from Paris. Proximity to the capital played no little part in helping to augment the cheese’s reputation. Unlike Norman Camembert, Brie did not have to wait until the advent of the railway to find its way onto the lucrative Parisian market.
Brie’s illustrious reputation was founded as far back as 774, when Charlemagne declared it ‘one of the most delicious dishes’. The cheese is also said to have been connected to the arrest of Louis XVI at Varennes in1791. Some sources say that he stopped to taste some Brie, the town being not far from Meaux, was recognized there and arrested. Others claim that after his arrest he requested some Brie from the grocer Saussejuste.
Despite this long association with royalty, Brie’s crowning achievement came at the infamous after-dinner cheese competition organized by the French representative, Talleyrand, at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. A cheeseboard had been assembled for the event, featuring 49 of the greatest cheeses from across Europe including Stilton, Gouda, Parmesan and Epoisses. After a prolonged evening’s tasting, and -one imagines- plenty of wine, Talleyrand and the 143 other representatives declared Brie de Meaux the eventual winner and crowned it ‘King of cheeses’. The cheese was awarded the AOC in 1980.
Brie de Meaux is made in large, cylindrical disk approximately 35-40 cm across and 5 cm high. This gives the cheese a high surface area to paste ratio, which it needs if the bloom on the exterior is to break down the interior curd, transforming texture of the paste from chalky to creamy. This ripening process takes a minimum of four weeks, although 6-8 weeks is recommended. Due to the region’s proximity to Paris it was common for cheeses to be sold semi-ripened, usually either ½ or ¾ affinée, and finished off at the place of sale. This is tradition continues to this day. Try Brie de Meaux with a St Julien or a Hermitage red