By Bob Lipinski
“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” — Charles de Gaulle, 1890–1970, President of France, 1962 speech
According to popular legend, Emperor Charlemagne supposedly first tasted Brie in around 774 at a monastery and fell in love with its creamy flavors and inviting texture. There are stories that put Brie’s beginnings several hundred years earlier, but those cannot be proven.
At the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) a jury of ambassadors each brought a cheese from their respective countries for a judging. France’s statesman, Talleyrand, brought Brie and after a vote, the conference delegates proclaimed it the King of Cheeses.
Brie, which is a double-crème, cow’s milk cheese is made in the French province of Brie, in the department of Seine-et-Marne, northeast of Paris, although it is also made in the United States and other countries. Brie is similar to Camembert (France), Coulommiers (France), Crèma Danica (Denmark) and Paglia (Italy).
The term Brie covers a small family of cheeses, which carry the name of the town or village where they are made. The finest Brie is generally considered to be Brie de Meaux while another variety is Brie de Melun.
Prior to aging, the small or large wheels of cheese are washed with a salt brine, then rubbed or sprayed with a culture of pure-white mold spores. After that, the cheeses are taken to the curing room for many months of aging. Brie has a thin, edible, white rind, with a creamy yellow interior.
When Brie begins to get old, the white rind turns brown and an odor of ammonia can be detected. Its texture is soft and smooth, almost honey-like, but definitely not runny. It is mild to pungent tasting with hints of mushrooms, cognac, heavy cream, nuts and even truffles. After one hour or so opened at room temperature, Brie becomes runny with a buttery and earthy flavor and is quite spreadable. It is sometimes flavored with herbs, peppers and mushrooms.
I generally serve Brie at room temperature, and for guests, with the aid of a sharp knife, I remove the top rind and immediately brush the cheese with lemon juice. Next I spread a thin layer of apricot or peach preserves, followed by raisins previously soaked in white wine, in the center. Spread slivered almonds or pecans in a circular fashion around the raisins. Place in a 425 F oven for approximately 7 to 10 minutes. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes, then serve with crackers.
Brie is a very versatile cheese and pairs nicely with a multitude of wines including some reds — Beaujolais, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, merlot, pinot noir and zinfandel. White wines include chardonnay, chenin blanc, Gewürztraminer, riesling and sauvignon blanc. Let’s not forget Champagne and sparkling wines.
Two New York State Finger Lakes wines I recently paired with Brie were:
Standing Stone 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon: Bright ruby colored with aromas of wild cherry, red candy and spicy blueberries. Should develop into a stunning wine.
Standing Stone 2014 Dry Vidal: Vidal is a white French hybrid of Ugni Blanc and Rayon d’Or, developed in 1929 by Jean-Louis Vidal. The wine has an aroma of grapefruit, kiwi and peaches. It has plenty of acidity, which keeps it clean and crisp tasting. Definitely one of the best dry Vidal wines I have encountered!
Bob Lipinski, a local author, has written 10 books, including “101: Everything You Need to Know About Vodka, Gin, Rum & Tequila” and “Italian Wine & Cheese Made Simple” (available on Amazon.com). He conducts training seminars on wine, spirits and food and is available for speaking engagements. He can be reached at www.boblipinski.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.