| Brie de Melun. Photo: Chez Loulou, Flickr |
For many Americans, French cheese is synonymous with Brie. In the United States, wheels of it can be found at both high-end grocery stores and large supermarkets. However, neither place sells the two primary types of Brie sold at Parisian cheese shops -- Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun, which are much more decadent renditions of the drippy cow's milk cheese.
Stateside, raw-milk cheeses must be aged for at least 60 days before being sold. By the 60th day, both of the two Bries mentioned above are too ripe and in no state to be exported across the Atlantic to be sold. For this reason, much of the Brie found at American cheese shops is pasteurized, industrial, and, quite frankly, a poor representative of this French cheese celebrity that is Brie.
So, if you're in France, what kind of Brie should you look for and what's the difference between the two types?
Brie de Meaux – Of the two Bries, this is the more traditional. It looks like a large white wheel (about a 15-inch diameter). After affinage, reddish streaks can develop on the rind. Whether or not it's aged, the rind is an essential part of this fromage and should be eaten with the paste. During its four to six weeks of aging, the cheese develops a rich, sweet, nutty flavor with a deep floral earthy aroma.
Unlike the Brie imported to the States, this one has an AOC (appellation d'origine controlée) rating similar to that of Champagne, which ensures not just its quality but also that the cheese is produced within the region of Brie, near the village of Meaux (about 31 miles east of Paris).
Brie de Melun – Also protected with an AOC rating, this Brie, produced near Melun, just outside of Paris, tends to be more flavorful and saltier than its larger cousin mentioned above. The golden yellow paste tastes more pungent thanks to its smaller size (about a 10.6 inch diameter) and slightly longer period of affinage (a couple more weeks). Its petite size means that the cheese's taste is condensed, with a potent, complex flavor of hazelnuts. The consistency is gooey and elastic, just like that of Brie de Meaux.
These two types of raw milk Brie are found at fromageries throughout Paris and help explain why Brie was once declared the "King of Cheeses" and why Louis XVI supposedly asked for Brie before being sent to the guillotine. So when entering a fromagerie in Paris, discover the reason behind the world's most famous bloomy rind cheese by tasting a slice of this authentic, Old World masterpiece.