Results tagged brie from David Lebovitz

Camembert de Normandie

Camembert de Normandie

Althought it’s hard to blame it, my camera ate all of my Camembert de Normandie (pictures), which I discovered when I went to download them. I was miffed (to say the least…), but in the end, decided that it was tough to blame my mischievous machine because I understand how hard it is to be around a perfectly ripe Camembert de Normandie and not want to wolf the whole thing down. As they would say in Paris when presented with an irresistible cheese — C’est un catastrophe, a demi-joke referring to the devastating effect it has on la ligne. (One’s figure.)

Like the genie in the bottle, once you let a soon-to-be goopy camembert out of its container, no matter how firm you think it’s gonna remain, there’s no turning back once it starts doing what comes naturally. And if you are able to resist eating the whole runny thing in one go, in France, you can get a little plastic box to store your camembert in, with little hinged plastic “walls” to keep your camembert from running. (Even though plastic isn’t the best thing to store your cheeses in; most fromageries wrap cheeses in waxed paper sheets.) I don’t buy a lot of Camembert de Normandie because it’s hard to stop eating it. But for the sake of you all, I went and bought another one, just because I like living dangerously. And what’s another catastrophe between friends?

Camembert de Normandie

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Visit to a Paris Market (Video)

Everyday in Paris (except Monday), there are outdoor markets taking place in the various neighborhoods spread out across the city. Each market has its own distinct personality – and personalities – and like many residents of Paris, I like to do my shopping at an outdoor market.

As a dedicated market shopper, I find myself gravitating toward my favorite stands and sellers, such as the friendly gent who sells potatoes (and who wears just a t-shirt all year long, no matter how freezing cold it gets) and the people who come bearing gooey wedges of locally made Brie as well as unbelievably delicious crème fraîche, the kind you just can’t get anywhere else but in France. There are sturdy metal tables heaped with plenty of ice to keep all the pristine seafood and shellfish fresh, and come fall, when I don’t pick them myself, I rifle through bins of irregular apples to find just the right ones to bring home and caramelize in a warm tarte Tatin.

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Coulommiers

couloummiers cheese

When I came back from Australia, something in my refrigerator stunk to high heaven. I was pretty sure I had done a good job before I left, making sure all bits and pieces of anything that could spoil in the frigo were tossed. Since my head was in another hemisphere, I just chalked it up to my fridge not being opened in a while. But a friend had stayed in my apartment while I was gone, and I remembered something in one of the e-mails about leaving “un peu de fromage” for me, to enjoy upon my return. So I did a little more investigating and found that indeed, wrapped in crinkly waxed paper and a loose covering of foil was a hulking round of Coulommiers.

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Bleu de Gex

Bleu de Gex

The last time Peggy Smith, co-owner of Cowgirl Creamery, came to Paris, we did some cheese tasting and shopping. We’d worked together at Chez Panisse for many years and she’s one of my favorite people—ever, and I wish she’d come visit more often. As we roamed a salon de dégustation of cheese, looking around at all the astounding cheeses from France (as well as a couple of beauties from Ireland, England, and Italy as well), I said to her; “What is the one cheese you would tell someone from the United States that they absolutely should try while in France, which is not available in America?”

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Brie

brie de meaux cheese goat cheeses

This week I watched a television program on the phénomène of locavorism in France. Being a resolutely agricultural country, the French are no strangers to being connected to the earth and to farming. But those days are waning and the announcer went to a supermarket in Paris and came out with a basket containing just a couple of items in it. (One was pain Poilâne.) And when she inquired about that, she was told, “There’s not much grown on the Île de France.” (The IDF is the départment where Paris is located.)

But if she had gone to the local fromagerie, she would have likely seen several substantial disks of Brie de Meaux resting on the counter, a cheese which is made about an hour outside of Paris.

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Antiquing Outside of Paris

I’m sure I’ve caused more than my share of near automobile accidents when I see a signpost by the edge of a road pointing towards a brocante or Depot Vente. After slamming on the brakes, I do a San Francisco-style U-turn, backing up to head into the parking lot.

(The week I moved to San Francisco, my roommates, who were natives, told me; “Whenever you see a parking space, no matter what you have to do to get it—do it.”)

coffee bowls my coffee bowls

Aside from parking spots, I can’t pass by a promising antique store without stopping everything. And there’s plenty of them dotted throughout France. Not all of them are great, but once you’re out of Paris, the prices drop by at least half, and once safely parked, I race inside in search of bargains.

If you go to La Chiffonière, near Coulommiers, don’t expect to buy those four blue café au lait bowls, because they’re sitting in my kitchen cabinet.

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Brie de Meaux

In summertime, I follow Parisians who’re making a mass exodus from the city. We scurry from the city, jamming crowded autoroutes and packing the train stations. The city offers few trees or shade, and the sunlight reflecting off the white buildings means little respite from the withering heat no matter how hard you look-and there’s only so much icy-cold rosé that I can drink!

So I often make weekend trips to the village of Coulommiers, where there’s a lively outdoor market selling the most famous cheese in the world: Brie.
Brie is not a town, but a region to the east about one hour away by car or train. The sunday market in Coulommiers is one of my favorites because no where else in the world will you find so many cheese vendors selling all kinds of Brie, many unavailable anywhere else.

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There are two true Brie cheeses. The classic is Brie de Meaux (Bree-du-Mohw), about 14-inches across, each disk weighing approximately 5 pounds. Brie de Melun (Brie-du-Meh-Lahn) is slightly smaller, a tad higher, and doesn’t ripen all the way to make a creamy pâte, like Brie de Meaux. Often you’ll cut open Brie de Melun and discover a drier layer of underripe cheese in the middle (at left). These cheeses have the most superb flavor in the late spring-to-early summer, when the cows feast on mustard blossoms, giving the cheese a musty, complex flavor and slight golden tinge.

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Brie de Melun is aged longer than Brie de Meaux. It has a firmer texture and many aficionados prefer it because of it’s stronger and more aggressive flavor. Both cheeses can be made with raw or pasteurized milk, although I prefer the raw versions, which are rarely available in the United States due to regulations in the US (where you’re allowed to drive at high-speeds on freeways while talking on a cell phone and drinking a giant latté, but prohibited from eating cheese that has been prepared the same way for centuries.)

These two Brie cheeses are AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) as of 1990, a product designation given by the French authorities, which states that these specific cheeses meet certain criterion for heating, coagulating, and salting the milk, the subsequent ripening, as well as being fabricated within the specific region. Most cheeses you’ll find labeled Brie are not a true Brie unless the AOC label is affixed to the exterior. In the US, you’ll only find it at a specialty cheese store…if you’re lucky to find it at all. In France, a notable exception is Brie de Nangis, which is a young, milder Brie from the region but does not carry the AOC label, but it’s good. The AOC designation has also been given to 34 cheeses as well as other products like the tasty green lentils from Puy, Haricot Tarbais (the dried beans used to make cassoulet), and the free-range Poulet de Bresse.

Although AOC is often a sign of quality, other products don’t carry the appellation, since they may be made in a neighboring region, or a slightly larger size, or stirred a few more times than the regulations allow during production. So as with anything, let your nose and the taste be your guide. No matter where you live, always seek out a good cheese shop and ask the fromager for advice: they’re a wealth of knowledge and should be proud of their cheeses and happy to help you.

Coulommiers is another excellent cheese from the region, and not AOC. It’s a smaller round, about 6-inches in diameter, and not widely known outside of France. Coulommiers has the same barnyard-like smell that is delectably appetizing in Camembert and indicative of a truly ripe Brie, but is a bit more pungent.

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Locals in Brie are perhaps the only ones who have developed an appreciation for Brie Noir. Normally Brie cheeses are ripened for between one and two months. Brie Noir is ripened much longer, often 8 to 10 months. It’s such a regional specialty, and only appreciated by people of the region, that you’re likely never to see it anywhere else.

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As you can see, Brie Noir is dark, brown, and crumbly. It’s covered with dusty powder and it tastes, well…horrid. After my first eaglerly-anticipated bite, I could not get the vile taste out of my mouth. It’s bitter and acidic. A friend from Coulommiers suggested I dip it into my café au lait at breakfast, which I suspiciously tried, which actually moderated the flavor and made it more palatable. Who knew?

Brie Q & A’s

But my supermarket cheese says Brie…isn’t that Brie?

Real Brie is almost always Brie de Melun or Brie de Meaux. Most of the other cheeses labeled ‘Brie’ are not true Brie. They often won’t ripen properly and taste worlds apart from real Brie.

Should you eat the rind?

The general rule for eating the rind of any cheese is that you may eat it as long as it won’t interfere with the taste or experience of the cheese. For example, something with a lot of mold growth obviously wouldn’t taste very good. A tough rind, like the rind of Parmesan, you wouldn’t want to eat either.

How do I cut Brie?

Think of any round wheel of cheese like a pie or cake. You should slice a triangular wedge out, so that you have a nice portion of cheese.
When presented with a full cheese plate to serve yourself, never cut the ‘nose’ off the cheese, the pointy end: It’s very bad manners!

Can I bring back raw milk cheese into the US?

That depends. Most of the time, I’ve found Customs Officers (oops…I mean ‘Department of Homeland Security’) officers will look the other way as long as you’re bringing in cheese that’s for personal consumption. Obviously if you have 60 wheels of Brie, you will likely get busted. Many fromageries in France will Cryo-vac (sous vide) cheese for transport to contain the fragrance, which I recommend. I once traveled with cheese in zip-top bags and by the end of the flight, the overhead bin totally reeked of cheese.
Luckily the other passengers were French…and for some reason, the US officials quickly waved me through customs.