Epoisses cheese from the Burgundy region of France was hailed by no less of an
authority than Brillat-Savarin, the 18th to 19th century French philosopher and culinary expert, as being le
roi de fromages, or the king of cheeses. With its strong distinctive odor, it is certainly a cheese that commands attention.
Epoisses de Bourgogne is one of the 50 or so different cheeses in France to be protected by an AOC, or appellation d'origine controlée. There are a number of strict rules that must be followed in the making of this cheese, including a requirement that the cow's milk used to make it all come from a prescribed geographical area near the tiny town of Epoisses, in the region of Borurgogne, or Burgundy as it often called by English speakers.
This cheese has a long tradition behind it and it is said that it was originally made by Cistercian monks in the 16th century, who then taught the local farmers the secrets of its production. So when you savor the creamy deliciousness of an Epoisses, have a thought for the glorious history of culinary savoir faire that is a cherished part of French culture. You may even be able to taste history!
Other then demarcating the area of fabrication and ripening, the AOC stipulates the method for elaborating this soft, washed-rind cheese
The cheese is formed into discs and comes in two sizes - one weighing about 250 grams and the other about 1 kg.
It is ripened in damp, cool cellars for at least four weeks.
As it is ripening, Epoisses cheese is washed twice a week in Marc de Bourgogne (an aged brandy made from what is left of the grapes after pressing them to make wine).
It is marketed in charming wooden boxes. This is necessary, as a fully ripened Epoisses can be quite limp.
This cheese is most flavorful in its non-pasteurized version, but it is quite possible that you will only find pasteurized Epoisses de Bourgogneoutside of France. Of course this may be as good a reason as any to visit the Hexagon, but in the meantime I certainly hope you'll give the pasteurized version a try.
How to Enjoy Epoisses Cheese
Fully ripened. An Epoisses is ready to eat when it feels soft. If you push on it and it has some give, it's probably ready.
Temperature: Like most cheeses, be sure to enjoy your Epoisses at room temperature. Take it out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes beforehand - an hour would be better.
Wine: Being a strong full flavored cheese, it is best to serve Epoisses with a wine equal to it. Sauternes, a sweet wine from Bordeaux, is often recommended, but a spicy full bodied white wine (from Bourgogne perhaps) will also do it service.
Method: Sometimes a thin layer is cut off the top of the cheese, and then the cheese can be scooped out of the rind with small spoons. Spread it on slices of a robust bread and serve with a few grapes for contrast.
Cheese Platter: Because this is a strong cheese, be sure to offer some alternatives to guests if you think they may shy from its odor.