We take an item and manipulate it and what it stands for to suit us. We do it because we can. In the U.S. there currently is not a set of strict standards to follow regarding appropriations of titles like there are in Europe. However, this can create confusion. Take brie for example. What is it, and when is it appropriate to call it brie, as opposed to something else? At what point does political correctness (or lack thereof) impede customer consumption? What are the responsibilities of cheese professionals regarding appropriate language? Why does it matter?
First, brie is a type of cheese that originated in France. Brie hails from Seine-et-Marne, in Ile-de-France, near Paris. Here the recipe has been used to make decadent, aromatic, earthy cow’s milk cheeses for centuries. Having gained the appreciation by Charlemagne in the 8th Century, the Franco pupils followed suit. This cheese has been a staple in French households ever since.
Brie is an uncooked, unpressed soft cheese made simply. Curds are ladeled into moulds and inoculated with penicillium candidum or camemberti, which are the mold cultures that enable the rind to form and bloom. Wheels are turned and flipped, and as soon as the penicillium takes hold, it blooms like a fuzzy, billowy, mushroomy flower on the surface of the fused curds. The affineur gently pats the mold down, and when it blooms up again, she/he repeats the gentle tapping. This process eventually forms the rind. Meanwhile, as the cheese blooms up, the microbes thriving on the rind devour the enzymes, cultures, and structural elements inside. As the stuff underneath gets broken down, the curds soften, and subsequently ripen, from the outside-in. The breakdown of proteins, a process known as proteolysis, is what gives this exceptional fromage its soft texture. You will note just under the rind that there is an oozier, gooier strip, which is known as the creamline. Besides the rind, this is the ripest part of the cheese. Thus, the creamline will have a stronger flavor and can be a bit saltier than the paste closer to the center. It only takes about six-eight weeks to make a fully developed brie that is ready to be consumed…unless you prefer it to be a little riper, like I do.
Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun both received A.O.C. (France’s controlled designation of origin) status in 1980. As such, these bries are considered the standard for typicity. There are, however, many different bries produced in France—all from Ile-de-France. They are made similarly with perhaps variations in temperatures in the make room or slightly different humidity in the caves. Mostly, though, the make and aging processes are the same with all bries.
The FDA has ruled that, in order to import, distribute, or vend any dairy products that have been made with raw milk, they must be aged for at least sixty days. Since Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun are both created with unpasteurized milk, and they are by nature young cheeses, we cannot get our hands on the bona-fide stuff in the U.S. Rather, we receive wheels of Fromage de Meaux (and no Melun). See, since Brie de Meaux is name protected, it has a set of rules to abide by so that the high standard of quality remains as such, as well as It prevents any kind of replication. I refuse to call the imported version what it is not. I call it Fromage de Meaux. I have worked at places that refuse to call it anything other than a brie. I find this to be disrespectful and an impediment for the consumers. Misinformation breeds more misinformation.
Besides being a stickler for respecting name protected designations, I also do not accredit any other cheeses made in this soft-ripened style as brie unless they in fact come from France. This is where synonyms come in handy. I often refer to this brand of cheese as a brie style, soft-ripened, or bloomy rind cheese. Even though most brie in France is now made in factories, I still think it is a detriment to dismiss this classic cheese’s distinguished accomplishments. After all, it went from being a French household staple to being a cheese plate fixture the world over.
Some fantastic French brie to keep on your radar are Fromage de Meaux (of course), Coulommiers, Brie de Nangis, and Brie du Pommier. The latter is my favorite because it is cruciferous, brothy, and poopily aromatic—in the best possible way. Some exceptional American, artisan brie styles include Acme Farms Petit Brie (Washington), Butterbloom (Oregon), Green Hill (Georgia), Cottonbell (North Carolina), and Meadow Bloom (Washington).
The U.S. is a super young country, and so we still do not have a lot that we can genuinely call ours, especially because of the hodgepodge of cultures that make this country what it is. A lot of what we have was brought here from somewhere else. A few American Original cheeses (recipe-wise) are Colby and Monterey Jack. These cheeses clearly are not name-protected, but if they were, we might take offense to some other country making a cheese from either a different recipe or a replicated version and calling it Colby or Monterey Jack. In this instance, imitation is not flattering. We will never know for sure how this would play out until we establish a place-name status for our country’s fromage. In the meantime, let’s respect the efforts others have put into place to protect the recipes of which they are rightly proud.