Thursday, March 13, 2008

King of Cheeses: Epoisses


Epoisses is the shit! The definitive, stinky French cheese is probably my favorite cheese in the world. So odiferous that it is allegedly banned on public transportation in France, the cheese reminds me of the old saying about Durian, the stinky Thai fruit: smells like hell, tastes like heavan.

Epoisses is a soft, washed rind, cow cheese from Burgundy. Over the past ten years, it has become very available in the Los Angeles area, and now can be found in pretty much any cheese store or gourmet market and on every restaurant cheese board in town.

While there are a number of producers, the most commonly available is Berthaut, which makes small wheels for sale in wooden boxes. True French Epoisses is made from raw milk. Of course, the American version is pastuerized by requirement of America's anti-cheese laws, but it still retains a lot of punch. Here then, is a quick guide to Epoisses.


Buying Epoisses

While Epoisses is readily available, you are best off buying it at a good cheese store that properly stores their chese, like the Cheese Store of Silverlake or Beverly Hills.

Open up the box and look at the Epoisses, which will be encased in plastic wrap. It should appear as a firm round wheel. If the surface is flat such that you cannot see the rounded edges, it has been sitting around too long. There should not be condensation on the inside of the plastic wrap. That indicates poor handling.

I like the fresh taste of a young Epoisse, so I always check the date on the bottom of the box, and I'm not above asking the cheese monger to go in the back and get me the youngest one they have. If you like a stronger taste, you may want to go for an older one.


Serving Epoisses

Like all soft cheeses, Epoisses should be served at room temperature. Unless it is sweltering, I usually take it out of the fridge five to eight hours prior to serving it. That way you will have the wonderful effect of cutting into it and seeing the off-white, viscous ooze that is Epoisses.

I usually serve it in the box, to avoid it running all over the place and my fingers smelling like Epoisses rind for the next week.

The orange rind on a young Epoisses is edible and I serve it along with the cheese. On an older Epoisses, it can get super-funky, in which case guests might want to avoid it.


Tasting Epoisses

While the smell can be overpowering, the taste of Epoisses, especially young Epoisses is comparatively mild, with notes of straw and grass and only a light saltiness. The flavor is strong, but in no way offensive.

When served at the proper temperature, Epoisses has a thick, creamy mouthfeel, and the rind barely distinguishes itself from the cheese.

I like to eat my Epoisses on a good, crusty bread (I usually use a sourdough boule from Los Feliz Bakery). It does well accompanied by apples, pears and a good white wine.

Frankly, I think Epoisses gets a bad rap in the aroma department. Yes, it can smell strong, but its taste is nothing compared to some other cheeses. I've had Taleggios that would make your toes curl, and no small amount of powerful Livarots and other French cheeses that make Epoisses smell like roses. When stored properly and served young, Epoisses is low on the stink but very high on the flavor. Sublime and even subtle, it is truly fit for a king.

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