Wednesday, January 22, 2014

It's not Ewe, it's Brie.

Brie (BREE) is a soft cow's milk cheese, originally made in an area once called Brie. This area is now part of the Paris urban sprawl, and is now called Seine-et-Marne.

There are two types of Brie, Brie de Melun (BREE deuh meh-LOON) and Brie de Meaux (BREE deuh MOH) whose names are protected by the French government, but the word Brie, however, is not protected. 

In common use, the word Brie is often mistakenly used as a generic term for any soft, bloomy rind cheese, and Brie often gets confused with Camembert (KAM-uhm-behr).

  Both Brie and Camembert are traditionally made from unpasteurised cow's milk, but pasteurised milk versions are produced for the United States market.

Brie and Camembert both start with cow's milk, but different cheese making techniques cause the differences in flavor.

Making Brie begins by adding cream to milk to raise the percentage of milk fat present. Perhaps you've heard of a brie being "double cream" or "triple cream". The milk used for triple cream Brie has triple the amount of cream compared to milk that comes straight out of the cow. That's why the triple cream Brie ends up being 75% milkfat - and that's why it tastes so good. Mmmmm.

After the milk is curdled, the watery part that is not curd is called whey. When making Brie, the curd is cut to allow moisture to drain out. The curds are then scouped into a form using a perforated ladle and the curds are allowed to drain overnight. 

The shape of the form is a flat disk about 14 to 16 inches in diameter and between one and two inches tall. Once the curd disk has been removed from the form and the culture has been sprayed onto it, the cheese ripens in six to eight weeks.

Brie has a large surface area to volume ratio, which affects moisture evaporation during aging, which affects the texture and the flavor of the cheese.

Brie ripens from the outside in. The ripe part of the cheese will be a little shinier and a little softer than the interior core of the cheese and should buldge out slightly.

Underripe Brie will have a thin white experior and the interior will be solid and chalky textured. 

A ripe brie will have a puffy, downy exterior, and the edge will buldge out. 

An overripe Brie will fall away from the rind and will be runny.

Brie is sold in wedges cut from a larger wheel. Once the wheel has been cut, exposure to oxygen halts further ripening.

What does Brie taste like?

Brie's interior paste will be creamy white, and when you taste it, you'll mostly taste the flavor of the milk, but you'll also get hints of grass, hay, and maybe some tangy, almost fruity flavors. Sometimes I get a whiff of fresh white mushrooms.

These secondary flavors are usually missing in mass produced cheese, but who am I to dis a Brie? I like Le Châtelain - large enough production to be really easy to find, yet it still has some distinctive Brie flavor.

If you are lucky enough to have a specialty cheese shop near you, ask your cheesemonger about locally produced, small batch, Brie-style cheeses.

Let your cheese sit at room temperature for about an hour before you eat it. 

Letting the cheese come to room temperature will allow its subtle flavors to come out. No, your cheese won't go bad in just one hour.
Both Brie and Camembert use traditional techniques to influence how the cheese will develop its final flavor, but Fromage d'Affinoisis is made with a modern technique.

Fromage d'Affinois is a brie-style cheese made with a filtration system that removes water from the milk used to make the cheese.

Removing the water from the milk both raises the percentage of milk fat and allows the Fromage d'Affinoisis to ripen in only a couple of weeks. Much of the flavor of the milk is retained. 
This cheese is very rich and has a mild, fresh flavor. It tastes like whipped butter.

In the next cheese post we'll cover Camembert, and how its different than Brie.

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