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Who am I to Diss a Brie – one of the oldest cheeses ever

Brie cheese history

I saw an advert for Cheese the other day which inspired this poem set to the tune of The Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” song:

Sweet dreams are made of Cheese
Who am I to Diss a Brie
I travel the Roquefort and the Seven Cheese
Everybody’s looking for Camembert

Now I can’t listen to that tune without thinking of French cheeses to fill in the spaces – it’s driving me a bit batty.

It’s true that I don’t actually like Brie that much but who am I to Diss a Brie?! It’s an ancient French cheese for sure and one of the top selling French cheeses in the world. There are Brie societies and fan clubs and the different makes of Brie are hotly contested at tables around the world as to which is best.

It is said that Brie was being made as far back as the 5th Century. I’ve heard it referred to as “the Queen of Cheeses”, “the King of Cheeses” and “the prince of cheeses” and it was included in the tributes that had to be paid to the French Kings in the Middle Ages. It takes its name from the area where it was first made – Brie in the Île de France.

The great Charlemagne was reputedly a devoted fan (mind you almost every history of old cheese says this – I think he was a bit of a cheese monkey). Robert the Pious, son of Hugh Capet distributed Brie cheese with bread to the poor of his Kingdom. Charles of Orléans offered it to the beautiful ladies at court and had his poets and writers describe it with relish. Henry VI and his Queen enjoyed its taste in a bit of a doing it for the cheese moment, as, it was said his mistress did not like it!

Brie cheese history

At the Congress of Vienna, one of history’s poshest parties, Talleyrand, the 19th-century French diplomat and a renowned gourmet called for a break from the day’s work in order to stage a cheese tournament. The English voted for Stilton, the Dutch nominated Limberger, and Italy and Switzerland countered with Strachino and Gruyère. Talleyrand remained quiet until the end, when the Brie was brought in. After a vote, the conference declared another king, “le roi des fromages” (“the king of cheeses”).

Some cheese experts consider Brie to be the ancestor of all cheeses.

brie cheese historyBrie is sold in several forms and much of the exported Brie cheese is not what the French call “real” Brie.

The exported cheese is immature and has a much longer shelf life because of it and isn’t susceptible to bacterial infections. So, unless you can get the real thing – you haven’t tasted the Brie that causes such a rumpus. The two most well-known Bries are Brie de Meaux : with a thin rind, slightly salty and soft and Brie de Melun which is a definite favourite amongst my French fromage fanatic friends. It has a much more complex flavour, acidic with a reddish crust.

“Real” Brie is not stabilised, it is allowed to mature and develop a complex flavour with a slightly brown surface (like in the top photo) rather than the white that most Brie’s have.

Brie is produced from whole or semi-skimmed cow’s milk with added rennet. After being heated it is cast into moulds, salted and aged. The wheels of Brie are packed into wooden boxes, it is served at room temperature and it is still considered one of the greats.

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