30 November 2008

The cheese called Époisses

We took J & C to Blois yesterday to catch their train back to Paris. It was a Monday-thru-Friday visit. Over the course of that "work week," we ate a lot of cheese (and tasted a lot of wines). They like cheese, and enjoying the variety of cheeses here is one of the most pleasurable aspects of being in France.

Here's a list of the cheeses we bought and sampled. In parentheses are the names of the provinces the cheeses come from and the milk used to make them. All are French except the Peccorino — two of them, in fact — which C & J brought from Italy, and the Emmentaler from Switzerland. We still have quite a few pieces of different ones of these in the refrigerator.
  • Époisses (Burgundy — cow's milk)
  • Chaource (Champagne — cow's milk)
  • Neufchâtel (Normandy — cow's milk)
  • Saint-Nectaire (Auvergne — cow's milk)
  • Peccorino (Tuscany — ewe's milk)
  • Chèvre demi-sec (Berry — goat's milk)
  • Chèvre frais (Berry — goat's milk)
  • Pont-l'Evêque (Normandy — cow's milk)
  • Emmentaler (Switzerland — cow's milk)
  • Saint-Agur (Auvergne — ewe's milk)
I listed Époisses first because according to no less an expert that Brillat-Savarin, it is the best cheese in France. He called it « le roi des fromages ». Another old food-lover named Courtépée wrote in 1775 that "the cheeses of Époisses are better than those of Brie." That's high praise.

Époisses is a village in Burgundy located about half-way between Avallon and Semur-en-Auxois and a couple of hours south of Paris. Its cheese is made from the milk of three Alpine breeds of cows — in French, La Brune, La Montbéliarde, and La Simmentale française. The cheese dates back at least to the 16th century.

According to one web site I found, 723 tons of Époisses are made annually by dairies (two of the biggest are Berthaut in Époisses itself and Germain in Chalancey) and another 4 tons are made by local farmers. The dairies use pasteurized milk, but the farmers' Époisses is made from raw milk.

During the 4-to-6-week ripening process, rounds of Époisses cheese are washed 2 or 3 times a week with white wine to which a little of the local brandy called Marc de Bourgogne has been added. As the cheese ages, the proportion of Marc in the liquid is increased.

The flavor of Époisses is strong but clean and not overpowering. The ones I've had have never developed that ammonia taste you sometimes get from the rind of very ripe Bries and Camemberts. The Époisses rind is orange-colored and perfectly edible. The cheese itself is soft and kind of sticky.

A round of Époisses about the size of a Camembert costs between 5 and 7 euros — compared to 2 or 3 euros for a Cambembert. But it's worth it, at least once in a while.


  1. Hi Ken,
    Here's another French cheese to add to your list. Do you know it's name*?

    "Petite tomme d'environ 500 grammes joliment décorée d'une feuille de fougère. Vendue fraiche ou affinée (cendrée). L'affinage Ce fromage s'affine plus lentement grâce à une fine couche de cendre qui ralentit la perte d'humidité. Ainsi le fromage reste onctueux et crémeux jusqu'au coeur. Le stade optimal d'affinage se situe entre 15 et 20 jours."

    I often feel sorry for people with a lactose allergy who can't enjoy all the lovely flavours and textures cheeses have to offer.

    A few leftovers (with a piece of baguette, a salad or some dried fruit and a glass of red or port wine) make a great lunch! Martine

    (*) It's a 'Fougère', a lovely cheese from the 'Brie' family.

  2. Ken

    You are right -it's worth it. Once hubby found it when we were on vacation in Burgundy last Summer, he took the opportunity to enjoy it; Camembert was not on the top of the list any more :-)

  3. You had mentioned Epoisses before and we wanted to try it when we were in France. Every time we ordered a cheese course we looked for Epoisses and even asked for it, but it never turned up. We could have bought a whole one but didn't. Now I wish we had!

  4. Epoisses is one of my favorites!


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