What is Brie? It is a French, soft, white, bloomy-rind cheese made from cow’s milk. The combination of the mushroomy rind and the soft cheese middle is really amazing. It goes very well with all kinds of breads but is traditionally eaten with baguette. You can in a pinch eat it with crackers, but it will be very difficult to follow the general rules of etiquette if you use crackers, at least in my opinion.
Quick lesson in Brie etiquette
- Never cut the tip or corners off of the Brie; this act of “pointing the Brie” is a huge faux pas and will never go over well.
- Definitely eat the rind; many people consider it the tastier part of Brie.
- Never cut a piece of Brie from a block in public detaching the soft cheese from the rind. The rind should always be attached when leaving the cheese plate.
- If you are really not interested in eating the rind, then you may remove it on your own plate or into a napkin.
- It is a general rule that you should always cut a block of cheese as to not misshapen it; that being said, it is advisable to cut Brie, as if cutting pieces of a cake, in slices.
- Always slice from one end, never start in the middle.
- You want to make sure that you cut the Brie such that everyone with you can enjoy a similarly sized portion.
- It is traditional to eat Brie with bread, namely baguette; when doing this, you should rip a piece of baguette with your hand as opposed to cutting it with a knife.
What’s with the ammonia smell?
Okay, so: Yes, Brie can smell pretty strongly of ammonia. Bloomy rind cheeses, like Brie are what we called mold ripened; this basically means that, during the cheese making process a mold culture is introduced and actually becomes the white colored rind of the cheese. In Brie’s case, the culture used to ripen Brie, while feeding on the cheese proteins, produces this ammonia smell.
Sometimes if the cheese is tightly wrapped in plastic and not allowed to breathe, or stored at very cold temperatures—such that the ammonia cannot escape—the ammonia build up is so great that there is a terribly strong ammonia smell and flavor.
As with all cheeses, if the Brie is packaged in plastic shrink wrap you must repackage it as soon as you bring it home in something that better facilitates the exchange of gases like wax paper. The wax paper wrapped Brie should then be placed in a resealable plastic bag or container leaving an opening for air to get in.
Also, before serving Brie, you should leave it out for at least 30 minutes so that the ammonia can dissipate and the cheese can reach room temperature.Brie fondant aux pommes et sirop d’érable by Pier-Luc Bergeron
Looking for a tasty cheese recipe? If you want to get fancy you can wrap the Brie in aluminum foil and then bake it at around 350 degrees in the oven until it starts oozing. Oddly enough, they call this “baked Brie,” (see the picture above) and doing this makes spreading the Brie onto bread much easier and, well—melty cheese is just more fun now, isn’t it?