Saturday, April 12, 2014

Brie: That Wonderful French cheese.

from 
Behind the French Menu
by
Bryan Newman


Brie: the cheese

 Brie is 45% fat, semi-soft, French cow’s milk cheese aged from six to ten weeks before  sale and the second most famous of French cow’s milk cheese.   Camembert  is number one and Brie is often compared to Camembert; however, while both are semi-soft cheese with similarities in the method of production, there are clear differences in their tastes.
    
  

A perfectly ripe wedge of Brie de Melun.
Photograph courtesy of Jennifer.
   


 A Brie may be eaten just as soon as it's sold, but if the cheese is very firm when pressed in the center that indicates it is not ripe.  A perfectly ripe Brie will feel soft when pressed in the center and when it  is cut it  will show a slightly bulging center. When Brie begins to run, then it is over-ripe.
    
The origin of Brie's name.
    
Brie’s name comes from the historic French region called Brie Française, now part of the department of Seine-et-Marne in the Ile de France next to Paris. That historic region gave its name to the cheese, which has its own history dating back to the Middle- Ages. 
    
  
 
The Fleur de Lis, the Coat of Arms of the Ile de France.
The fleur de lis was part of the royal Standard of England until 1800, it represented the English claim to the throne of France. Following the French revolution England dropped its claim to the French throne.
    
Brie and Brie type cheeses are also made in other parts of France, though only two Bries, the Brie de Meaux and the Brie de Melun carry the Pan-European  AOP (AOC) label for their unique quality. Both Bries are still made in the historic Brie Française region with unpasteurized milk; pasteurized milk versions are available for export.  Despite their lack of AOP labels, there are other French Bries and Brie-like cheeses, that are really excellent.  For more about the AOP and AOC markings see my post: What are the initials AOC and AOP on France's Foods and Wine labels?
    
Buying a Brie.
     
If you are considering buying a wedge of Brie, in France, to take home, be aware that it will not continue to ripen once it has been opened.  Go to a fromagerie, a professional cheese shop, and ask for a Brie that will be ready in a day or two, no longer.  Have the wedge vacuum-wrapped and when you get home keep it in the refrigerator.  Take the cheese out of the refrigerator an hour before serving;  any Brie left over should be wrapped in plastic wrap and kept in the refrigerator. The left over Brie should be served over the next few days as after that it will begin to dry out. For a lexicon on buying cheese in France see my post:  Buying cheese in France and taking it home.
    
France’s two most famous Bries.
    
Brie de Meaux AOP
    

A whole Brie de Meaux  weighs close to 3 kilos  (6.5 lbs), its diameter is that of a large pizza,  approximately 36 cm (14 “), and it is 3 cms (1”) thick.  If you are in France and a true Brie lover then visit the town for dinner as it is just 22 km (14 miles) from Euro-Disney and  55 km (34 miles) from Paris, 45 minutes by train. Visiting on the 3rd Sunday in October will bring you to the town’s most important cheese celebration. 


  

Brie de Meaux
Photograph Meaux Tourist Information Office.
   
The annual Brie de Meaux celebration is held at the same time as the Autumn fair of Meaux; this celebration is organized by the Confrérie des Compagnons du Brie de Meaux, the brother and sisterhood of the Companions of the Brie from Meaux. 
     
  

The Confrérie de Brie de Meaux.
Photograph Confrérie des Compagnons du Brie de Meaux website: http://www.confreriedubriedemeaux.fr/
  
Meaux is not only famous for its cheese but also for its old style mustard, quite different to Dijon mustards. To check dates and see what else can be enjoyed in and around Meaux see the town’s French language web site using Google translate or Bing translate at http://www.ville-meaux.fr/ 
      
Brie de Melun AOP
   
 The Brie de Melun is a smaller cheese that the Brie de Meaux, but still weighs 1.7 kilos (3.75 lbs), and is four cms (1.6”) thick.   Meaux is just 18 km (11 miles)  from the Château de Fontainebleau  and  42 km (26 miles) from Paris, 40 minutes by train. The town of Meaux celebrates their cheese on the first Sunday in October at their annual Fête du Brie de Melun organized by their confrérie, the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Brie de Melun, the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Knights of the Brie from Melun.
   
 

The Coat of Arms of the Confrerie of  the Brie de Melun.
Photograph from the  Confrérie des Chevaliers du Brie de Melun website: http://www.confreriebriemelun.fr/
   
Apart from tasting the cheese and other local products at their fete many restaurants in the area will be offering special Brie centric menus. To check the dates and to see what else is in and around Melon see the town’s French language web site at www.ville-melun.fr. 
  
  

Confrérie de Brie de Melun
Photograph from the  Confrérie des Chevaliers du Brie de Melun website: http://www.confreriebriemelun.fr/

Tasting Bries.
  
I was able to taste the two famous Bries together;  both were perfectly ripe, and incredibly they were served with  a glass of white port. That was a uniquely enjoyable experience in a very special Parisian restaurant and cheese store.  Both are great cheeses and with their slightly different tastes, and I can only confirm that they are both excellent; neither can take second place. By the way a Brie’s rind may be eaten, it has a different taste and texture to the cheese but eating a small amount of rind will add to the enjoyment.

One note about Brie tasting; any Brie that smells of ammonia is stale and far past its sell by date. That smell means the cheese is really off, send it back, or if at home, throw it in the bin, I don’t think that even mice will eat stale a Brie.


There are other Brie and Brie-like cheeses made in France with the most famous being the Coulommiers’ cheese.  Coulommiers is often called the Petit Brie de Coulommiers, the small Brie of Coulommiers, as the cheese’s taste may easily be mistaken for one of the two famous AOP Bries. Coulommiers is less than an hour away from both Melun and Meaux and like the two famous Bries made in the historic region of Brie Française
    

  
The Coulommiers cheese.
       
The Coulommiers cheese comes in thin wooden box with a 500 gram (1.1 lb) cheese. The box may make you think of a Camembert; however, the cheese tastes like a Brie and its box is clearly marked.

Taste many wines, cheeses and the best Bries of France.
  
To taste all the best bries and many other cheeses visit Coulommiers during its 4 day Foir aux Fromages et Vins, their wine and cheese fair. The fair has nearly 400 exhibitors with wines, many wonderful cheeses including all the best Brie and Brie-like cheeses The fair begins on the 2nd Friday in April through the following Monday. This very popular fair is visited by over 60,000 people annually.
    

The route to the Chateau de Fontainebleu, Melun,
 Euro-Disney, Meaux and Coulommiers.
© Google Maps.
   
The fair has a French language website:  http://www.foire-fromages-et-vins.com. Coulommiers is  just 29 km (18 miles) from Eurodisney and  64 km  (40 miles)  from Paris and  1 hour and 20 minutes by train. Coulommiers is also just 28 km, (18 miles) from Meaux and 50 km (31miles) from Melun.
  
Brie cheeses  around the world.

 Brie cheeses, like many other French cheeses are copied all over the world. After you have tasted a perfectly ripened Brie in France, only then you may then judge where the best Bries come from.
  
   

Chinese Brie on sale at a Beijing supermarket.
Photograph courtesy of Nate Grey.

Bries like many French cheeses have lost the unique rights to their name; however  imported  real French Bries are available in most countries.
  
Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014.

For information on the book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman
at
behindthefrenchmenu@gmail.com

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