Originating in France's Meaux region just east of Paris, this popular cheese takes its name from the market town around which it was first made. It is the foremost example of a soft-ripened or bloomy rind cheese, meaning that the unique cultures begin their work on the outside of the cheese, ripening inward and manifesting themselves in the soft, white surface mold for which the cheese is famous. Brie has become a consumer favorite in the United States, just like it is at home in France. Unsurpassed as a party cheese, Brie can easily transform any meal into something special and pleasurable.
How is it Made?
Once the cheese curds (known in French as caille, or coagulated milk) are firm enough to leave their mold -- after a few hours, their surface is inoculated with Penicillium candidum, a mold that in a few short weeks will completely transform the bland, chalky interior into a soft, ivory-colored, creamy paste with a subtle, earthy flavor that some say reminds them of wild mushrooms. Brie is typically sold either in whole wheels or in individually cut and wrapped wedges for self-service counters.
- After tasting Brie for the first time around 774, Charlemagne is said to have praised it as "one of the most delicious dishes."
- Legend has it that during the Revolution, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were captured during their flight when the king "seized by a sudden craving for Brie" stopped off for some at Varennes not far from Meaux and was recognized and arrested.
- Brie is said to symbolize the Revolution as summed up in the quote, "Brie, loved by rich and poor alike, preached equality before anyone dreamed it possible."
Isn't Brie high in fat?
This is a misconception about the fat in soft-ripened cheeses. The fat percentage listed on a cheese is based on the amount of solids, not the entire weight, a big difference because the softer and fresher a cheese is, the higher the water content, and therefore, the lower the fat content. Brie with up to 50-percent water content is actually lower in fat and calories per ounce than Cheddar or other hard cheeses. In other words, if Brie is labeled as 60 percent fat, fat comprises only 30 percent of the entire cheese. In general, Brie is a healthy food choice that is lower in fat than most cheeses and is also naturally low in carbohydrates.
Can I eat the white mold?
Yes, but it is totally up to the individual's taste. Most people like the white mold and eat it gleefully. Others shy away from it and consume only the interior. It's up to you, but it is entirely safe to eat.
How do I know if my Brie is fresh?
Brie is fairly simple to assess. It should have an overall clean, fresh look, and ripe Brie should be rather plump and soft to the touch. It should feel like the skin between your thumb and forefinger when you make a lightly clenched fist. Avoid Brie that smells strongly of ammonia or is sagging as though it's deflated. These are signs that the cheese is too old or has not been stored properly. It is quite normal for Brie to develop off-white highlights in the mold, but it should not be grossly discolored.
What is the best way to serve Brie?
Brie should always be served at room temperature. Let the cheese stand covered (best left in its wrapper) for at least 30 minutes to one hour prior to serving. If serving a whole wheel, slice it in wedges like a cake. It pairs beautifully with the tart taste of dried cherries, cranberries, apricots, or raisins. Brie also complements toasted nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios, almonds, and cashews. Scatter a wheel of Brie with a colorful assortment of dried fruits and nuts for color and flavor. Try Brie slices for a tasty twist in cheeseburgers, or melted on croutons for use in soups and salads. Brie also works well in sandwiches, such as with sliced apples and smoked turkey on pumpernickel or with roast pork and shredded cabbage on a crusty roll. Brie pairs with a wide assortment of wines, from champagne to hearty reds, and beer and cider as well.
How do I store Brie?
Buy only as much Brie as you will consume for up to two weeks. Once opened, you should keep Brie tightly wrapped in foil or plastic wrap and in your refrigerator's vegetable drawer. Brie should never be frozen.
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