Many brands and types of Brie jostle for space at American cheese counters, but a discriminating French shopper would probably disdain most of them.
In France, the finest Brie is made with raw cow’s milk. In fact, the regulations governing the production of Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun – the two most esteemed appellations – require raw milk. That’s why these two cheeses are unavailable in the United States. They don’t meet our government’s 60-day aging requirement for raw-milk cheese.
Consequently, French cheese producers have devised workarounds. They have developed non-appellation Brie from pasteurized milk for the American market, and they have figured out how to extend the shelf life of these wheels and make them more tolerant of the cold storage of supermarkets.
These so-called “stabilized” Bries soften quickly and uniformly and then their progress all but stops, a sort of arrested development. They offer neither the range of aromas found in traditional Brie, nor the satisfying texture of Brie that matures more gradually.
The truth is, we’ll have to go to France to find a Brie that would please a connoisseur. But in the meantime, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Brie l’Original, a new cheese from a large French producer.
Two years of research went into its development, with the aim of creating a non-stabilized wheel in the classic 3-kilo size (roughly 6 1/2 pounds) that would achieve peak ripeness at about six weeks, the time it takes to reach American cheese counters.
Compared with stabilized Brie, which relies on a lot of rennet for quick coagulation, the Brie l’Original recipe uses minimal rennet. Instead, the cheese makers depend on carefully chosen cultures to ferment the milk slowly, producing lactic acid and replacing the flavor-generating enzymes lost when milk is pasteurized. The cheese is matured for 12 days at the dairy, then it begins its three- to four-week journey to the United States.
Brie l’Original does have cream added to boost the milk fat, giving it a more luscious, supple texture than classic Brie.
What I admire so much isn’t the texture but the room-filling mushroom and truffle aroma. In the two samples I tried, the rind wasn’t ammoniated, and many Brie lovers would probably have eaten it. I cut it away, but it’s no faux pas to keep it intact.
Pair Brie l’Original with a red Burgundy or Pinot Noir or with a rich sparkling wine.
Look for it at Rainbow Grocery, 24th Street Cheese, Falletti Foods, Say Cheese and Lucca Delicatessen in San Francisco; at Mill Valley Market; at Woodlands Market in Kentfield; at Robert’s Market in Woodside; and the Cheese Board in Berkeley.
Janet Fletcher teaches cheese-appreciation classes and is the author of “Cheese & Wine: A Guide to Selecting, Pairing, and Enjoying” from Chronicle Books. www.janetfletcher.com, firstname.lastname@example.org