Joyeaux Noël, mes amis. If you’re like me, ‘tis the season to indulge in what might possibly be the perfect holiday food – brie. Once referred to as “The Queen of Cheeses”, brie is as rich in history as it is in flavor and oh, is it versatile. So, smile and say cheese, we’re taking an in-depth look at this creamy and beloved crowd pleaser.
What exactly is brie?
Made from either cow or goat’s milk, brie is a soft cheese named after the French region Brie de Meaux, where it originated. It has a creamy texture with subtle notes of butter and earthy flavors like mushrooms. Milder than Camembert with lighter tones, brie is covered in the same iconic rind of white mold which is both edible and flavorful. It’s delicious on its own or served with honey, dried fruits, nuts, and herbs such as rosemary.
How is brie made?
Brie can be produced using whole or partially-skim milk. Enzymes and rennet are added to raw milk helping it to coagulate and curdle then heated to a maximum temperature of 37°C (99 °F). Yeast culture is added to foster the white mold. The cheese is then cast into molds, oftentimes with a traditional perforated ladle known as a pelle à brie. The mold is filled with layers of cheese and drained for about 18 hours. Then the cheese is removed from the molds, salted, injected with cheese culture, and aged for at least four to five weeks. The longer the cheese ages, the more flavorful it becomes. However, overripe brie has an unpleasant flavor due to the excessive amount of ammonia is accumulates during the aging process. Mon Dieu! What a process.
A royal treat
Produced in the town of Meaux in the Brie region of northern France since the 8th century, brie is best known as the “Queen of Cheeses. It graced many royal tables in the Middle Ages but after the French Revolution, it was enjoyed by royalty and commoners alike. In 1980, it was granted the protection of Appellation d’origine contrôlée and is now produced primarily in the eastern part of Parisian basin to have official AOC certification.
Variations of French brie are enjoyed all over the world including Australia, the UK, and the United States. Brazilian “brie” is produced in the dairy region of Minas Gerais state and Southeast Minas Gerais. Ireland produces a version known as Wicklow Bán Brie, St. Killian Brie, and Irish Brie.
Serving brie can be a simple as opening the package and letting it sit at room temperature or baking it in puff pastry with jams, honey, or nuts. But no matter how you serve it, this flavorful and versatile cheese is sure to be a hit at any holiday party.
And now here’s something I think you’ll really like →
Baked Brie with Pistachios, Dried Apricots, and Honey
1 large sheet of puff pastry dough
1 round wedge of Brie (it’s best to remove the rind but you can leave it on)
2 Tbs honey
¼ cup toasted pistachios – chopped
¼ cup dried apricots – diced
1 egg – beaten for an egg wash
Preheat the oven to 350°
Toast the pistachio nuts for approximately 10 minutes taking care not to burn them.
Let the pastry dough thaw then roll it out on a lightly floured counter top to a 12“-square.
Remove the rind from the cheese (or leave it on, it’s a matter of taste).
Slice the cheese in half horizontally until you have two equal disks. Place the bottom disk on the puff pastry.
In a small bowl, mix the honey, pistachios, and dried apricots until blended. Spoon the mixture over the bottom disk then top it with the other disk of cheese (it will resemble a brie sandwich).
Fold the dough over the brie and spoon the egg wash over the seams (you can cut the excess dough to make leaves or ornaments to adorn the top)
Flip the brie over and spoon the egg wash over the remaining sides and the top.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Let cool slightly before serving.
You may serve it with apple wedges, crusty bread, or crackers. And oh, don’t forget the wine!