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Monday, January 26, 2015

Epoisses

Roll out the red carpet; it's time to meet the king of cheeses. Sorry Roquefort and Brie, but the crown goes to Epoisses, a cheese so sublime, it might just take you to the peak of pleasure.

Chateau D'Epoisses
Epoisses originated in the village of Epoisses in Burgundy. It is said that the magnificent dairy product was first made by the monks at the Abbaye de Citeaux or one of the sister Abbayes in the sixteenth century. Eventually, when the community at the Abbaye Citeaux left, local farmers in the area began making Epoisses. Today the creamerie at the Abbaye de Citeaux is back up and running, making cheese with the eponymous name, but it's one that's rare and not as majestic as Epoisses.

Production of the once popular Epoisses dwindled during and after the Second World War, but in 1959, Robert and Simone Berthaut, two farmers in the region, decided to jump into the cheese-making business and focus on making this extraordinary cheese. Since then, artisanal fromageries in and near the area produce it, but under AOC regulation, only cheeses made in specific communities in the Cote-D'Or region in Burgundy can claim the true title of Epoisses.

During his time, it was reported that Napoleon was fond of Epoisses, as was the famous epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin years later. In fact, it was Brillat-Savarin who dubbed this cheese the king of cheeses, with good reason. It's a cheese that will make you swoon.

Napoleon was a big fan of Epoisses.

Sometimes the anticipation of eating something is at least as good as the moment the luscious food touches your tongue. Such is the case with Epoisses, a creamy, cow's milk creation that could easily pass as food for the Gods. There are both pasteurized and unpasteurized versions, but most of the imported kinds are pasteurized. The milk used is generally from cows who have grazed on the lush grasses and herbs in the area.


Epoisses comes in a wooden container.

Inside the elegant wooden box that protects the delicate little disk of fromage sits a slightly golden and orange-red, brandy wash-rind or smear-ripened cheese that's classified as stinky but is more on the verge of alarming any nostrils than actually offending them. Just looking at the beautifully formed wheel makes your mouth water. The rind glistens just a little bit, inviting you to poke, sniff and examine it more closely.

The rind is wrinkly and somewhat smelly, but the cheese inside is divine.



To say Epoisses is a soft cheese is an understatement. The smooth, velvety paste has just a hint of firmness to match its more textured rind, but it melts beautifully in your mouth, flooding your taste buds with a mild, nutty and downright decadent milky flavor. If you close your eyes while sampling this cheese, you might imagine hints of bacon and blanched almonds. There's also an undeniable light sweetness that emerges only briefly and quickly dissipates. As the cheese ages, the aroma and flavor intensify, moving the Epoisses more into the stinky cheese category. The pungent flavor is subtle but not completely lacking. It doesn't match the cheese's more powerful aroma.


Does this make your mouth water or what?

Serve Epoisses on crackers, raisin bread, crusty French bread or on a spoon straight out of the container. Try cooking Epoisses in a ham and apple tart or adding it to your favorite mac and cheese recipe. You can't really go wrong no matter how you serve this outstanding gem.

Epoisses can be hard to find. Some cheese shops only carry this luxury item during the holidays, but a few places have it in stock more consistently. I lucked out this December when I stumbled upon the very last wheel of Epoisses in the case at Whole Foods. It seemed like there was a single stream of light shining down on it at the time. The cheese was definitely calling my name. I quickly grabbed it and placed it in my shopping basket. Sometimes it's the little pleasures that bring the biggest smiles.


Liquor Mart
Liquor Mart in Boulder has an outstanding selection of wines, beer, champagne and more.


Kevin Downs, Assistant wine manager at Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado, suggests the following pairings for this cheese:

Lize came up with a cheese that is almost impossible to match with wine this time! Most would suggest drinking it with a red Burgundy, especially an old one, but I find that a cheese like this totally eviscerates that wine. If I was to do a red, I’d find as earthy and funky a wine as I could find. Santadi’s Grotto Rosso ($14.99) from Sardinia would be a reasonable choice as would Alexakis Kotsifali-Syrah from Greece $14.99). Some suggest an old Chateauneuf du Pape. 

Whites usually work better with all cheeses, but here it’s a tough call as well. An Alsatian Gewurztraminer will work, such as Trimbach or Ziegler ($13.99) or perhaps an off dry Riesling such as Kung Fu Girl ($11.99) or Monchoff Estate ($14.99). 

Sauternes from France or another botrycised dessert wine such as Tokaji from Hungary work the best…the sweetness and earthy acidity working quite well with the powerful flavors of this cheese. This is actually one cheese that I might suggest an alternative drink. A strong Belgian ale or a big IPA beer works very well with this cheese. This is a wonderful cheese and is meant to be experienced regardless of what you have with it. Enjoy!


Tokaji from Hungary pairs well with Epoisses.