Friday, June 8, 2012

Coulommiers Cheese. If You Want a Great Brie That Costs Less Try the Petit Brie de Coulommiers

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan Newman
Updated May 2018
Coulommiers’ cheese.
Coulommiers’ cheese is a creamy, 45% fat cheese with some farm-made versions made with unpasteurized milk.  When ripe, like the best Bries   Coulommiers is spreadable and has an ivory grey pate and a naturally wrinkled white rind.  The cheese, depending on the milk used, is aged for five to eight weeks before being sold when it will have the light nutty taste of the best brie’s. The cheese is sold in 500 gram (18 oz) wooden boxes,
The Coulommiers’ thin wooden box may make you think of a large Camembert; however, the cheese tastes like a brie and the boxes are all clearly marked with the cheese’s name. 

Coulommiers, the town that gave the cheese its name is a pretty, small, floral, typical French town with a long history. Even today it has less than 15,000 residents and retains much of its Middle Ages architecture along with the obligatory narrow streets

The town of Coulommiers and its Cathedral.

The cheese is also called the Petit Brie of Coulommiers as its taste is very close to that of France’s Brie de Meaux AOP and Brie de Melun Brie AOP cheeses which are produced in a similar manner in the same region. Despite its lack of an AOC/AOP the Coulommiers farmers and dairies are very highly rated.
Taking a whole Brie de Meaux home is not option with EasyJet or most other airlines. A Brie de Meaux weighs 2.70 kilos (6lbs), and its diameter is similar to that of a large pizza, approximately 36 cm (14 “) across.  A whole Brie de Melun is smaller but still weighs 1.7 kilos (3.75 lbs). When you take home cut wedges of Brie, Camembert or other ripe semi-soft cheeses they need to be eaten within a week of arriving. Cut wedges of semi-soft cheeses never improve in the refrigerator, and quickly begin to lose flavor.

Coulommiers, the only cheese on the cheese plate.

A whole Coulommiers weighs 500 grams (1.1lbs) but still cannot be taken on a plane as a carry on. Gels, creams, and pastes over 100 grams ( 3.50 oz) must be placed in the checked baggage  When you go get home, within 24 hours or so, of starting your return journey a whole Coulommiers will keep well for a month in a wine cooler or cold cellar. Never freeze cheese.
Caveat Emptor, taking home an unpasteurized Coulommiers presents no problems with the UK customs, but the USA does not permit unpasteurized cheeses that have not been aged for at least sixty days.  For the USA buy a pasteurized Coulommiers cheese, one that says pasteurized on the box. Like other excellent cheeses made in pasteurized and unpasteurized versions, only the real gastronomes can tell the difference outside of a blind tasting so worry not

A ripe Coulommiers
Coulommiers cheese may not be well-known outside of France, but inside France, it is one of top ten of cheeses sold locally. Every supermarket and cheese shop sells this popular cheese. Unfortunately, not all Coulommiers.are equal, and you have to look where the cheese is made as copies may be made anywhere in France and are legally sold with the name Coulommiers.
France’s two AOP brie cheeses and Coulommiers cheese comes from the old French province called Brie Française; now part of the department of Seine-et-Marne.  The town of Coulommiers is just 60 km (37 miles) from Paris, 28 km (17 miles) from Meaux and  50 km (31 miles) from Melun. The recipe for these two great Bries and the Coulommiers cheese, according to those who study these matters, is the same.
Is Coulommiers a brie.

With so many copies of this cheese being made in other areas of France the cheesemakers of Coulommiers have requested a Pan-European  AOP.  They may not get the AOP they want, but they certainly are entitled to a PGI. However, they have not given up and with such an excellent cheese they are fighting for their AOP label. In 1980 the brie cheeses of Meaux and Melun received their AOC gradings, and I believe at the time the cheesemakers of Coulommiers must have been sleeping on their watch. 

Coulommiers cheese made with unpasteurized milk.
Buy the Coulommiers that you are going to take home in cheese shop that can vacuum pack it for travel and, ask for a cheese that will be ready in five to ten days. To buy cheese in France along with suggestions for taking cheese home and keeping an imported cheese at home see the link: Buying Cheese in France. Bringing French Cheese Home. A Cheese Lexicon for France.
When visiting you will see above the town a relatively well-preserved castle of the Knights Templar that was built in the 12th century; shades of the DaVinci Code.   Within the town, the office of the French Ministry of Tourism provides walking routes across the bridges crossing the Grand Marin River and three canals that are part of the town. When looking up Coulommiers on a map or on the web do not confuse it with the town called Coulommiers-la-Tour, that town is over 130 km (81 miles)  away in the region of the Centre-Val de Loire
For those of you who enjoy the spirit of France's local culinary fetes consider visiting the Foire Internationale aux Fromages et aux Vins de Coulommiers, The International Fair of Cheeses and Wines from Coulommiers. The dates of this fair change every year between March and April, but the French Government Tourism Office can advise you of the exact dates of the next fair. The exhibits include sheep and goat cheeses along with locally produced butter, honey and beer.  For immediate consumption are locally made bread, cakes, sausages, pates, and many other goodies. There are not too many wines produced close to Coulommiers, but those that do are exhibited and sold along with wines from slightly farther away.  

Exhibiting at the fair.

You can order, ahead of time, places for their celebratory dinner and dance. Expect a few speeches in French, and, of course, the cheese plate towards the end of the meal will only be their own Coulommiers cheese.

The Confrerie des Amis du Brie de Meaux,
The brother and sisterhood of the friends of the Brie de Meaux, visit the Coulommiers fair.
Are they checking on the competition?

Part of the fair is for the local farmers who can meet, discuss and show their lambs, beef and milk cattle as well as working horses that are unique breeds. Seeing a genuine farmers' meeting and market can be an enjoyable change to regular tourist routines so check the times and dates.

Stables in Coulommiers
Below is the French language website of the Coulommiers fair and it can easily be understood in English using the Bing or Google translate apps.

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Bryan G. Newman
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