A favorite of Napoleon. Dubbed King of all cheeses by French epicure, Brillat-Savarin. So pungent that rumor has it even the French have banned it from being eaten aboard public transport. The star of our New Year’s Eve 2007 dinner’s cheese course. What is it? Epoisses, a delectable cheese that according to legend has been produced in Burgundy since the 16th Century.
We were first introduced to Epoisses several years ago, when our good friend and the editor of our book Protein Power, Fran McCullough, sent us a round of it for Christmas. We were at our home in Santa Fe that year and Fran dropped us an email inquiring where we would be for the holiday and saying she was sending us something ‘live’ and we’d need to be home to receive it. We’re thinking, live? A bird? A puppy? A plant? A guppy? Live? But we wrote back, promising to be around.
When the ‘man in the brown truck’ (as our youngest grandson calls him) showed up with the styro box, marked perishable, and we lifted out its contents, we were a bit confused. It was a small, round, balsa wood box containing some orange-colored cheese. Perishable, sure, but live? But knowing Fran, as we do, for the serious foodie that she is, we assumed it must be good and put it aside in the cheese keeper to enjoy over the holiday.
As it so happened, that year our friends, the Wolseleys, were coming from Santa Barbara to Santa Fe with their daughters for a visit the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Michael Wolseley is a professional golfer by day, but a foodie and an oenophile at heart. He grew up in Belfast, but lived and worked for many years in France, where he met his lovely wife, Marie Christine, who is Parisian. Her family’s country home (which she and Michael still own) is in a small village in Burgundy, about an hour and a half from Paris, and a stone’s throw from Epoisses, the village where the cheese originated.
Over dinner the day after they arrived, we began planning what we would have for our New Year’s Eve feast. When we showed Fran’s gift to them, they were over the moon. Turns out that when they were at home in France, Epoisses, being a locally made delicacy, was a holiday tradition and one they hadn’t expected to enjoy in New Mexico.
We need to take it out of the refrigerator now, Marie Christine said, so that it will be ready by New Year’s Eve.
Now? It was December 28. New Year’s Eve was 3 days away.
She carefully selected a spot on the counter, not too hot, not too cold, not in a draft, to ripen the Epoisses. Every day, several times, she tested its ‘give’ by pressing the surface through the cellophane covering the wooden container. She would poke and nod. Poke and nod. Poke, nod, and smile. It appeared that things were coming along on schedule. On New Year’s Eve, she pronounced it ready.
Our friend, Michael, then carefully unroofed the round of cheese, removing just the pungent, orange, soft top of the rind with a sharp fillet knife.
The cheese inside was a pale winter white and glistened like pearl in the soft candle and fire light. He stuck a spoon in and lifted it up; cheese ribboned off the spoon like hot caramel. Perfect!
He brought it to the table and almost reverently put a spoon of Epoisses onto a small thin slice of raisin, walnut bread and savored it. We all did likewise, transported by a taste like no cheese we’d ever experienced: nutty, runny, stinky, yummy! We vowed to never have another New Year’s Eve feast without it. And we haven’t.
After a rich experience like the taste treat of Epoisses, it’s hard to image needing more. But we still had room for a sweet treat: low carb Creme Brulee, the culmination of our holiday extravaganza, which will be the next (and last) post on the meal.