Saturday, January 28, 2012

Epoisses de Bourgogne

Called the "King of Cheeses" by famed food author Brillat Savarin, Epoisses cow's milk curds are hand-ladled into forms, bathed with brandy, aged in humid cellars, then packed in cozy, wooden boxes for shipping. The cheese has a powerful, pungent smell, meaty, salty and pudding-like in texture, the pate, has a mouth watering taste of sweet, salty and creamy milk flavours.

Like many of its sister washed rind cheeses, it was probably developed in an abbey during the late middle ages by Cistercian monks in the environs of Dijon. Epoisses became famous during the reign of of Louis XIV and it is said to have been one of Napoleon's favorites. It was very popular in the early part of the twentieth century but disappeared during the second world war. It was only in 1946 that two local Bourguignon families started to produce it. 

The cheese is manufactured by heating cow's milk for at least sixteen hours using lactic acid, after which it is placed into molds, salted and allowed to dry. From there, it is aged for at least six weeks, during which time it is washed in a mixture of water and pomace brandy (also known as marc). This hand washing helps distribute the bacteria evenly across the surface of the cheese and adds flavor. The brandy gives the cheese its color and its strong scent.

Just as important as how the cheese is made are what species of animal it was made from, and what they ate. Brune and Montbeliarde Simmenthal cows typically graze for months in the fields of Burgundy until they are ready to be milked. The local grasses impart the unique flavors of the French countryside to the milk.

Allowed to sit at room temperature, Époisses practically melts inside its rind. When you cut into a perfectly ripe round the knife just sinks through the pate. It is ivory inside, resilient and slightly chewy with a soft creamy texture that melts across the palate. This is a big cheese with a strong flavor that hits you with salt and cream and earth and dust and an indescribable blend of flavors that linger long after you've swallowed the cheese. A perfectly ripe Epoisses is an extraordinary thing.

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