This post has been kicking my butt. Brie is just such a loaded cheese. The problem is that what the cheese really is, and what we see here in America are so completely different from one another. The first clue you have letting you know if you have Brie, or an impostor is the milk. Brie is traditionally a raw cow's milk cheese. It is aged for a few weeks if it's Brie de Meaux or up to ten if it's Brie de Melun. Essentially that means you can't get Brie in the U.S. Yup, everything that you've been eating, everything packaged as Brie is not actually Brie. Never fear, there are good pasteurized versions of Brie, and then there's...well...
There's this. This is not Brie. I don't even think it's really cheese. I doubt it has the 50-60% butterfat content that you'd find in a Brie. Brie does not come in a log. It does not come in a paper tube. It is not a cylinder. On the packaging it claims that it's the perfect shape for crackers, implying that somehow Brie is very difficult to get onto a cracker. If you are having difficulty cutting a soft cheese and putting it onto a cracker please go see your doctor you might have carpal tunnel. Or more likely, you should be committed.
A few months ago I saw it at the supermarket by my house and took a few pictures before someone asked me what I was doing. How lazy have we become that we need our cheese to be formed for us? Have we as a nation really gotten this apathetic towards our food?
So, we can spot an obvious Brie impostor, but what about those subtle ones? They have a white bloomy rind and straw colored paste similar to Brie. And they smell like...well, what do they smell like? Most smell like nothing.
Brie like all good cheeses has a smell. This can be tricky though. A slight ammoniated, smell isn't all that bad when you talk about Brie. In fact, more often than not you will get that smell with a new wheel. Really you have to know when the Mr. Clean smell is too much, and when it's alright. When the Fromage de Meaux comes into the shop we always take a sniff. If the ammonia smell gets into my throat I know we should refuse it. It's not going to get better.
If the cheese has an ammoniated smell, taste it first. Try the paste alone, and then with the rind and let it sit out of refrigeration, unwrapped for 20 minutes to think about what it wants to do. After 20 minutes has passed, smell it and taste it again. If it's really strong in the nose, and on the palate, wrap your cheese up, and go back to the store you bought it from telling them that they sold you unfortunate cheese. A respectable merchant will make things right. If they don't, well, maybe you need to shop somewhere else.
If, on the other hand you bought some Brie-style cheese, on Monday for a party you're having on Saturday and it tastes awful Saturday morning, that isn't necessarily the merchant's fault. Brie like it's cousins, Camembert, Explorateur, and other double and triple creme cheeses is one of those cheeses that should be eaten shortly after it's been cut. She is a sponge. She wants to absorb all the lovely smells and flavors of your ice box. She wants to go bad. Don't let her If you have determined that the rind is bad, but the paste is still good, do something with it. You could take the paste and make a tasty sandwich. You could even melt it into a sauce for soup. There are a lot of things you can do so you're not throwing out money.
Texturally, the stuff in the supermarket probably won't do much as far as turning into a soft gooey yummy cheese. Think of Brie-style cheeses like butter. You don't want some hard non-yielding piece to spread on your cracker, but you don't want it a puddled goo that you dip into. Brie-style cheese should be in the middle. Yielding to the touch, and when room temp soft, spreadable, delicious.
Enough of my chatter. Let's look at some cheese.
Which of these three cheeses is Brie?
Many people that come into the shop mistake this for Brie. This is Fromage d'Affinois. A double creme, bloomy rind hunk of butter. This is the mildest cheese. It tastes, cuts, and spreads like butter. Slightly salted butter. When I give people a taste of this, and of the Fromage de Meaux they almost always pick this one and say that it tastes more like Brie. For me it doesn't look like Brie, and it sure as heck doesn't taste like it. That being said, this is a good cheese for people just starting their cheese adventures. Mild, unassuming, easy to get along with.
Is this Brie? No, this is l'Edel de Cleron. Remember the Winnie that I love so much? That cheese is modeled after the French Mont d'Or (AOC controlled). l'Edel de Cleron is the gentle pasteurized version of Mont d'Or. When ripe, this cheese has a lot of the same textural similarities to Mont d'Or, but shares more of the woodsy, mushroomy, earthy flavors of Brie. A perfectly acceptable replacement for Brie, and a pretty tasty cheese all on its own.
So this must be the Brie right? Technically speaking, no. If this hadn't been pasteurized we would call it Brie de Meaux. Since it has been pasteurized to make it appropriate for shipping to the U.S., it's Fromage de Meaux. Now, the man who sends us this cheese keeps it in the caves with the authentic Brie, so it does have more flavor than most. But it's just not the same.
So then, what's the answer? The smart ass answer is for you to develop a good rapport with your landlord so she doesn't mind when you're a bit late with the rent because you just had to go abroad and eat cheese.
You could also just not buy already wrapped cheese in the cheese island near the deli at your supermarket. Ask if you can taste things before you buy cheese. Trust the cheesemonger. Taste more, because every wheel of cheese, every single batch is different. And don't ever ever ever buy a log of Brie.