What’s Brie?

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Brie is a creamy cow’s milk cheese from north-central France with a white rind. It has a neutral flavor and is versatile, often paired with fruits, nuts, and savory foods. Brie was declared a delicacy by Emperor Charlemagne and is still produced traditionally in France, with some types protected by a certificate of origin. Making brie is a complex process involving heating milk, adding cultures and rennet, and straining and drying the cheese. Brie can be served cold, room temperature, or hot, and is often paired with bread, fruit, or incorporated into dishes.

Brie is a creamy cow’s milk cheese named for the region of north-central France where it was first created. The cheese typically comes with a wheel, or round, and is protected by a thick, white rind. While the rind is edible, most cheese connoisseurs are more interested in the creamy center. The cheese will hold its shape when cut into wedges or slices, but is easily spreadable. Its neutral flavor makes it an excellent addition to fruits, nuts, and any number of different sweet or savory foods.

Early popularity and history

According to legend, Brie first gained prominence when it was declared a “delicacy” by Emperor Charlemagne, who reigned from 768 to 814. Nearly a hundred years later, he was crowned “the king of cheeses” in a European cheese-making competition at the Congress of Vienna. These accolades are primarily due to the cheese’s uniformly creamy texture, rich taste, and smooth, uniform flavor.

Modern production in France

Today there are shouts all over the world, but France remains the first producer. The more traditional French iterations are made with unpasteurized or raw cow’s milk. Most countries have restrictions on the import of unpasteurized dairy products, however, largely for safety reasons.

Raw milk has an unrivaled creamy taste, but also has a higher risk of contamination. Pancakes intended for export – and many of those intended for commercial sale in markets throughout France – are made with pasteurized milk. Pasteurized cheeses taste very similar to those made with raw milk, but usually travel better and have a longer shelf life.

Secure Certificate of Origin

The term “brie” is considered a generic name for any type of cheese made in the brie style. There are however two exceptions to this rule. The names Brie-de-Meux and Brie-de-Melun are covered by a so-called “certificate of protected origin” and can only be used on cheeses produced in the French regions of Meux and Meuln. This type of protection is given to foods and beverages that embody certain regional specifications.

The cheeses made in Meux and Melun aren’t necessarily all that different from those made elsewhere in France or other parts of the world, but they are considered by many to be the most authentic. Cheese lovers looking for a “true” or “original” experience often seek out products with certified origin.

How it’s done

Making brie is a complex thing and usually spans several days. The basic ingredients are cow’s milk, some form of culture or starter, and rennet. Rennet is an enzyme found in young goat or calf stomachs, but synthetic versions are available in many places. More often than not, it’s the proportion of cultures and rennet to the milk that determines the type of cheese that will be made.

Heating the milk is the first step, after which the cultures and rennet are added. Once everything has been absorbed, the milk is removed from the heat and allowed to cool until it is “set”, which is until it solidifies, usually to the consistency of custard or thick yogurt.

Cheese makers then pour that solid into moulds, which are pressed and strained for several days. Straining removes excess moisture and ultimately improves the density and flavor of the cheese.

The crust forms when the molds are removed and the cheese is salted and dried. Traditionally, this drying took place in caves in northern France. Today’s global demand, as well as health and safety concerns, make cave drying less realistic today. Most modern manufacturers use temperature-controlled rooms or drying machines.

Service ideas

Brie is a versatile cheese that can be served cold, room temperature, or hot. Baked brie is a very common appetizer, particularly when paired with bread or some form of fruit. Cheese is often eaten on its own, usually as an appetizer or on a dessert cheese plate, but it can also be incorporated into pasta or baked dishes, especially those made with poultry.

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