Cheese of the Week is a weekly feature on The Daily Meal, drawing on the expertise of internationally renowned cheese expert and consultant Raymond Hook. What follows is based on an interview with Hook.
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If you think back to what cheese plates looked like about 15 years ago, it was pretty much a sad state of affairs. A hunk of Cheddar, some fresh mozzarella, maybe a piece of supermarket Gouda or Swiss… and one shining beacon of things to come: Brie. It’s the cheese that introduced people to real cheese, and it remains one of the most popular cheeses in the world today.
Brie, which in France is known as Brie de Meaux, has been produced in the French region of Brie, just east of Paris, for at least 1,400 years. It’s a soft, bloomy-rind cow’s-milk cheese, and when whole is a large, flat disc a little more than a foot in diameter and about 2 inches high. To produce the cheese, milk is treated with rennet and left to set up for about a half-hour. The curd is strained and handled very gently, left to drain under its own weight in order for the curd to retain as much moisture as possible. The cheese’s exterior dries very quickly because of the wide surface area, and the addition of Penicillium candidum leads to the formation of that familiar white bloomy mold.
"Parmesan might be called the King of Cheeses, but Brie is the most elegant cheese of them all," said Hook. "The smell is mild and mushroomy, like the forest floor, and the flavor is earthy, sweet, and slightly herbaceous, with a slight tartness and a lot of butter." After the cheese is brought to room temperature, wait for it to "sag" a little; that’s when it’s ready to eat.
Brie is one of the best cheeses in existence for a cheese plate, but there’s one issue that always seems to arise, and it involves the rind. To eat it or not to eat it? According to Hook, that’s one decision that’s entirely up to you.
"Whether you eat the rind or not is a personal choice," he said. "There’s no right or wrong way to eat Brie. If you try it and don’t like it, then that’s your thing." Sometimes the rind becomes ammoniated, which makes it necessary to cut it off, however (and a good way to remedy this is to store the cheese in was paper inside a big Ziploc bag). One word of advice, however: If you’re at a party and don’t want to eat the rind, don’t scoop the paste directly out of the wedge. Cut off a whole piece and remove the rind on your plate. "Scooping the Brie is a big party faux-pas," Hook added.
When it comes to pairings, nothing goes better with Brie than champagne. Hook recommends pairing it with a pink champagne, like Billecart-Salmon’s Brut Rosé Champagne, which is slightly acidic and full of currant, cherry, and raspberry notes. "The sweet fruitiness of the champagne balances with the earthy umami of the Brie," he said. "It’s elegant and festive. Give me some Brie and a glass of pink champagne, and I’ll do my happy dance."