January 23

Nutty, runny, stinky, yummy: Epoisses, King of Cheeses

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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.

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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.


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  1. This is a new one. I’m not a cheese fan, but I have a friend who is. I bought her a collection of 5 cheeses from around the world for Christmas. She was in heaven for the week or two (there was about 5 pounds of cheese!) it took her to finish them off! I’ll have to look into getting some of this for her for next year. Bet she’ll love it!

  2. You are a good writer. That made me WANT that cheese. Now, this country bumpkin is enlightened to one of the finer things in life. I look forward to the rest of the story.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Thank you, neverbilly. I have to say, I’m nevermary, so I know where you come from.

  3. That was a great read. I love cheese, but never has Epoisse (sp?). Where can I buy it in the U.S.?

    COMMENT from MD EADES: It’s available online, but I get it from our local natural foods market and I’ve seen it at Whole Foods Markets in various places.

  4. Hi, this is not a comment on the cheese, but I didn’t know where else to leave my query – sorry. I live in Ireland and bought the Cookworx recipe book from Amazon – I need to know the volume of your cups so that I can properly change the ingredients into grms.
    I have 2 different cup sizes – metric at 250 mls and US at 240 mls. I know it doesn’t make a lot of difference in most recipes, but for bread and baking it does. I also have the Low Carb Comfort Food book and my baked goods sometimes come out iffy if I don’t get things right. I find this particulary so for items like Almond flour (we just have ground almonds here, which may be coarser and take up more ‘room’). I’d love to know what one of your cups of almond flour actually weighs to help me get your recipes right. Thank you for your help – I really enjoy experimenting with LC and appreciate the variety that this brings to my ‘diet’.
    Barbara

    COMMENT from MD EADES: I have to admit that I don’t have a clue about UK measurements. In the US, for dry products, such as flours, meals– i.e., almond meal, which you can further grind in the food processor or blender if you need to make the ground almonds finer–we use a ‘dry measure’ measuring cup that doesn’t give mls. For wet measure, we use the 240 ml per cup variety. I do know that the two aren’t exactly the same, thus the directive on this side of the ocean to use volume measures for liquids and the dry measures for dry ingredients. We ought to use weights of dry goods, but we don’t. Still, the difference between the two over here would make one suspect that the dry cup probably is equivalent to your UK (250 ml) cup. Wish I could be of more help.

  5. I cannot believe my eyes. This site is FANTASTIC. Great health advice on one side and really, seriously good recipes on your blog. What a blast. I love your book Protein Power by the way. Good one. I was pleased to read your husband’s defense of Gary Taubes’ book because I have read it and wonder why if it’s true so many people are fighting it. Thanks. Belated Happy New Year.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Thanks; delighted you’ve found it enjoyable. And Happy 2008 to you, too.

  6. The Epoisses cheese sounds wonderful and we’ll have to try it, but I’m really looking forward to your low-carb Creme Brulee recipe. Would a variation of it also work as a Creme Caramel recipe, I wonder? I enjoy your food tips and recipes, thank you!

    COMMENT from MD EADES: The custard part would work just fine, but the caramel would be tougher. I’ve never experimented with trying to caramelize any of the sugar alcohols, for instance, or part sugar alcohol and part poly-D to see if it would work. It might. I know that Splenda just turns to little charcoal fluff if you try to blast it with the propane torch for a brulee. Whether you could caramelize the granular stuff in a skillet as you do sugar, I don’t know.

  7. Epoisses is an awesome cheese. Americans need to get over the stink and discover the creamy goodness of these powerful cheeses. Another good one to try is Munster, not the American sandwich cheese. The French Munster has an unforgettable stink on it but is sooooo good. I ate this while working in France for 6 months in the region from which it originates (Alsace). There is a place in Ohio that makes/ships it but Ive never been able to find it locally. Wild Oats may have it. If you see it give it a try with a Tokay Pinot Gris, a nice white wine also from the Alsace area. Tokay Pinot Gris is an excellent wine not too sweet and not too dry, a really well balance white for pork, sausage, sauerkraut, and Munster cheese all the typical dietary fare of this region. Bon Apetit!

  8. I just returned from Germany. My sister and I purchased epoisses from the farm market in her little village. I fell in love with the stuff! Our favorite way to eat it was on a slice of fresh baguette with a few johannesbeeren on it (black currents.) The fruit was the perfect companion to the cheese.

  9. Epoisses is my favorite cheese and I’m serving it this weekend as our concluding cheese course (with toasted raisin-walnut bread and a Sauterne). I get mine from Whole Foods. I first experienced Epoisses when we stumbled upon the town of Epoisses back in 1996 – memorable trip and cheese! Thanks for the insight regarding the 3-day preparation – never knew about that.

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