Photo: Max Shrem
Earlier this month at France's biannual Salon de Fromage, cheesemakers announced the "rebirth" of this farmstead Brie made according to cheesemaking traditions that go back as far as the 13th century, including the use of raw milk, draining over wooden racks, molding by hand, and much more. Indeed, to wrap our taste buds around its distinctly floral bouquet, reminiscent of the region's shrubs, birch, and oak trees, we have to understand the long-established process that's involved in producing the cheese.
Unlike most other wheels of Brie, which tend to be industrial, the milk used to make Brie de Provins is 100-percent traceable. For this reason, Bertrand Weissgerber, president of Brie de Provins, refers to the cheese as a "fromage de terroir." The milk comes from cows on the same farm where the cheese is made, and, as a result, Weissgerber can also trace the food source of the cows back to the natural pastures on his farm. In other words, the treatment of the milk preserves the natural micro-flora of the region of Brie, an area known for its many forests – Forêt d'Armainvilliers, Forêt de Crécy, Forêt de Ferrières, to name a few.
In addition to maintaining the "taste of the region" in the cheese, the small team of cheesemakers follows a time-honored tradition of manually molding the cheese "à la pelle à Brie," which means "with the use of a perforated ladle designed for casting the Brie into molds" -- a process that is increasingly being forgotten among most cheesemakers. Another customary technique involves letting the wheels drain slowly and naturally over wooden racks in their molds. In short, the entire production of Brie de Provins is natural and done by hand. Even during the 30 to 35 day aging period, when the cheese is removed from its mold, the wheels are turned every three days by hand.
For the past 30 years, the production of Brie de Provins did not look anything like what we've just mentioned. In 1979, Weissgerber's father Jean created the cheese that many Frenchmen have come to recognize as Brie de Provins. However, it was produced according to an industrial procedure without regard to "terroir." In January 2010, after being abandoned for centuries, the artisanal production of this cheese was taken over to preserve both the tradition and history of Brie de Provins. "The oldest documents describing this production of the cheese are dated 1217," says Weissgerber. Check out more about the cheese's history at the Brie de Provins website.
Brie de Provins is now available at several cheese shops in Paris, including Madame Hisada and La Ferme Saint-Aubin on Ile Saint-Louis. The cheese is also sold at shops in the medieval city of Provins (the name for which the cheese is named) in the region of Brie -- La Ferme at 18 rue de la Cordonnerie, La Cave à fromages at 18 rue de la Friperie, and Au Bon Terroir at 21 rue du Palais.