Let’s Meet Époisses

David | Blog | June, 27 2011 | No Comment

Among the more distinctive cheeses from France is Époisses (ay-pwahss), also known as Époisses de Bourgogne. This is a very nice stinky cheese, with the characteristic rusty exterior, and soft ivory to butter-colored paste, brimming with flavor. Époisses has a bit in common with the Belgian beer style Wit (or White, Witbier) in that it was nearly extinct until it was revived in the middle 20th Century. It is made in the Bourgogne region of France, more specifically in the area near the city of Dijon where there is a village with which the cheese shares its name. It has an AOC designation requiring that geography.  There are stories about Napoleon having a fancy for Époisses, and its history is fuzzy, but the cheese was likely developed by monks in an abbey some 400 or 500 hundred years ago.

Époisses is made from cow’s milk, which is slowly curdled rather than being cooked at higher temperatures. Once the cheese is molded and drained, it is bathed in salt water and later in Marc de Bourgogne brandy. As with other soft, washed rind cheeses, this procedure encourages certain ubiquitous bacteria to colonize on the surface and affect the ripening process, the color, and the odor of the cheese. Époisses is ripened for five to six weeks, and then packaged in a wooden round that helps maintain the shape. Berthaut and Germain are the Époisses producers recommended by author Max McCalman, along with the GAEC Del la Fontaine, and Latierie de La Cote, whose raw milk versions may be harder to acquire in the U.S. By anyone’s standards this is an assertively aromatic cheese, with a myriad of flavor nuances.  As McCalman notes, “it can be quite salty yet simultaneously rich, creamy, luxurious, and balanced. If you are looking for the quintessential French washed rind delicacy, this would be the place to start.”  Similar cheeses include a smaller version with a Chablis wash that goes by the lyrical name of Affidélice (ah-fee-day-LEESE), neighbor Langres, and California Cousin Red Hawk, from Cowgirl Creamery.

Wine pairing recommendations usually include Riesling, Cabernet and Pinot Noir.  For beer I’ll go with a rich malty Brown Ale or Porter like Bell’s Best Brown (Mich.) or Meantime Brewing Co.’s London Porter from the UK. Another approach might be a sweeter farmhouse ale like Saison Silly, from the old country, or North Coast Brewing Co.’s Le Merle (Calif.).  Heck, you could get a little crazy and pair Époisses with the Helles Lagerbier from the smokin’ brewers at Schlenkerla in Bamberg. Results on that one may vary.

If you are looking to procure Époisses in the Chicago area you might try our sponsor in Oak Park, Marion Street Cheese Market, or one of the Pastoral locations, or you could visit yours truly at West Lakeview Liquors and its adjacent grocer.  I recently began working with these wonderful folks on a part-time basis to help manage what has become a very respectable cheese case, and  I’m there a few times a week, including most Friday nights. If you know about West Lakeview’s beer selection (ranked 14th in the world by Rate Beer) you will understand that the cheese and beer pairing implications are mind-boggling.

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