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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Époisses (Epoisses) AOC the Premier Cheese from Burgundy (Bourgogne – Franche-Comte).

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

A properly aged Époisses.

Époisses is a strongly flavored, slightly salty, slightly nutty, very creamy, pale beige, 50% fat, cow’s milk cheese made from pasteurized and non-pasteurized milk. The Époisses is also a very smelly cheese, but its smell has no relation to its strong but excellent taste. The rind is shiny, smooth or slightly wrinkled and can vary between a light yellowy orange to a deep orange-red; the older the cheese gets, the more wrinkles will be seen on the rind.
An Époisses cheese that has just been tested.

The origins of the Époisses’ cheese.
The origin of the cheese’s name is a small village called Époisses, part of a commune in the department of Côte-d'Or.  The village has a population of less than 1,000 and is just 91 km (57 miles) from the city of Dijon.

A fromager, a cheese merchant, with an impressive shop in the wine center city of Beaune said the cheese dates back to the 16th century when it was created by the Cistercian monks in Abbey of Notre-Dame de Cîteaux some 30 km from Beaune. He said that the monks from this Abbey taught the farmers’ and their wives, from Époisses, how to make the cheese.  (Époisses is 112 km (70 miles), from the Abbey).
Epoisses on French Menus:

Entrecôte Grillée Sauce Époisses – A grilled entrecote steak served with a sauce made with the Époisses cheese.

Croustades d'Escargots aux Morilles et à l'Époisses Toasted bread served with snails and wild morel mushrooms with Époisses cheese. (A croustarde, like that in the menu listing above, is often very similar to an Italian bruschetta).

Faux Filet à la Crème d'Époisses - A US strip steak (a UK sirloin), served with a cream of Époisses cheese sauce.

Tarte Flambée à l’Époisses de BourgogneTarte Flambée or Flammen Kuechen from the region of Alsace.  (Since 1-1-2016 Alsace has been part of the new super region of Grande Est formed together with the regions of  Champagne-Ardenne and the Lorraine).

The traditional tarte flambée is a rolled out, very thin, pâte à pain, bread dough, covered with crème fraîche and a soft white cheese baked in the oven. The cheese used is a local cheese from the Alsace called bibeleskaes; to this are added thinly sliced onions and lardons, smoked or fried bacon bits all baked together in an oven for about ten minutes. Today many different flavors may be part of a Tarte Flambée, and  Époisses cheese is one of them.
An Époisses ready for serving.

Onglet de Bœuf Charolais Grillé, Sauce Époisses A US hanger steak or London broil and a UK skirt steak. Here the grilled steak comes from the very highly rated Charolaise beef served with a sauce made from the Époisses cheese.
Tartiflette à l'Époisses - Tartiflette began as a whole, baked, Reblochon cheese poured, as it melts, over boiled potatoes with some recipes adding crème fraîche to the cheese. To a tartiflette on the side may be added bacon, local dried meats, sausages or ham. A good recipe has many copies, and the tartiflette noted here is made using the Époisses cheese.

The Château d'Epoisses.
Now a place for meetings and conferences.

The Époisses cheese, like many other French cheeses, was very popular in the 19th century but with WWI, WWII  and the Great Depression farmer's could not make a living and production practically ended.  Then in the 1950’s Robert and Simone Berthaut, at the time artisan cheese makers in the village of Époisses began reintroducing the Époisses cheese. Today the Berthaut’s have a modern dairy and they, along with two other dairies and one farmer artisan producer, makes the cheese which has held  AOC status since 1991.
   The village of Époisses.
While these cheeses are maturing, they are rinsed with water and then dipped in Burgundy's Marc de Bourgogne about three times a week.  (Marc is the French version of Italian Grappa, a brandy made with the grape skins, leaves, etc,  that are left over in making regular brandies). The washing in Marc de Bourgogne inhibits mold growth, and that, in turn, allows in bacteria, which give the cheese its distinctive aroma and flavor to grow along with the flavor added by the Marc. After four weeks the Époisses AOC cheese is considered mature; however, the cheese is sold when the pate inside is still slightly granular, becoming creamier as the cheese matures. When bought in a fromager, a cheese shop, or ordered in a restaurant, if they have continued the aging process correctly, the cheese will have a smooth, creamy pate. The Époisses aficionados consider the cheese perfect when it can be eaten with a spoon

Washing and dipping an Époisses.
The sizes of Époisses

The cheese comes in two sizes and is sold in thin wooden boxes.  The smallest is about 10cm across and weighs between 250 and 350 grams (between 9 and 12 ounces). The larger size depends on the producer and may weigh from 700 to 1100 grams (25 to 39 ounces).

Pasteurized and unpasteurized Époisses cheeses.

One dairy (Gaugry) and the Bartkowiez farm produces Époisses in unpasteurized versions while the other two dairies make the cheese with pasteurized milk and that is the version that is sold to the USA. The UK permits the import inspected unpasteurized cheeses from members of the European Union.
The cheeses of Burgundy.
Burgundy is more famous for its wines than its cheeses, but four cheeses made in Burgundy have been granted AOC status:

Chaource, AOC/AOP; a cow’s milk cheese. (Le Chaource originated in the town of Chaource in the department of Aube in the region of the Champagne-Ardenne.  (Champagne -Ardenne since 1-1-2016 is part of the new super region of Grande Est, to the North of Burgundy-Franche-Comte).
Charolais  AOC/AOP; a goat’s milk cheese.
Époisses, AOC/AOP; a cow’s milk cheese.
Mâconnais, AOC/AOP; a goat’s milk cheese

There are many other fine cheeses in Burgundy without an AOC on the label. Look for cheeses like the Ami Du Chambertin (cow's milk), Montrachet (goat's milk) and the Aisy-Cendre (cow's milk) among many many others. To enjoy the cheeses of Burgundy on a picnic, and there are at least fifty different cheeses to choose from, buy three or four cheeses along with a baguette and a bottle of a cold Burgundy white wine. N.B. When buying four different cheeses for your picnic, do not buy more than 30 grams of cheese per person or you will have a lot left over; I speak from experience.
Connected Posts:


Tarte Flambée, Tarte Flambe, Flammekueche or Flammen Kuechen; Alsace’s Signature Slow Fast Food.
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Bryan G. Newman

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