Époisses is a soft, washed rind cheese made of cow’s milk from three départements in the Burgundy région of France (northeastern France): Côte-d’Or, Haute-Marne and Yonne. Its history can be traced back to the 16th century, when a religious community of monks in the town of Epoisses is reputed to have begun its fabrication. The unique production method of this artisanal cheese evolved over the centuries exclusively through oral tradition until the late 19th century, before being written down. And just in time too; the war-ridden first half of the 20th century deprived the region of its dairy farmers, and without them Époisses faded into extinction. In 1956 however, 11 years after WWII, local family revived the then dormant delicacy by mobilizing dairy farmers in the region to revisit and share their savoir-faire. Époisses soon regained its past success, and in 1991 became the first washed rind cheese to obtain an AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée – protected designation of origin – PDO).
Époisses is easily distinguishable by its orange tinge, cylindrical shape and the parallel indented lines that cover its mildly concave surface. As is the case with all PDO products, every Époisses must adhere to strict criteria including but not limited to: source of milk, race of cows, pasture location and maintenance, cheese processing, height, weight, diameter. For example, only three races of cows – Montbéliarde, Brune and Simmental – produce milk deemed acceptable under the Époisses’ PDO. In all, 44 dairy farms are responsible for the production of 16,800,000 liters of the milk that will become Époisses
The Époisses should be aged for a minimum of 6 weeks, during which the rind must be periodically washed in a mixture of pomace and water and meticulously brushed to ensure the even spread of desirable bacteria. The pigmentation of this bacteria is what gives the cheese its distinctive orange color, which darkens with age. All use of artificial colorants are strictly forbidden.
The finished product will have a smooth, lightly wrinkled crust. On the inside, a pearly-beige color reflects the creamy texture of the cheese and emits a mild, earthy aroma. To the tongue, Époisses has subtly balanced taste, giving off light notes of dried fruits. The optimal seasons for this delicious cheese are at the end of spring and beginning of winter, periods at which the milk is rich from the newly sprouted pasture herbs and the autumn regrowth.
Recipe Idea – Époisses-stuffed Brioche
-1 round brioche
-1 époisses 250g
Preparation for the coulis:
- cream and butter
Cut the top off of the round brioche and carve out the crumb to the dimensions of the époisses. Place the cheese in the center and place in the oven at 250° F for 10 to 15 minutes. While waiting, prepare a coulis with your fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic parsley, cream and thicken to your liking with kneaded butter. When sufficiently heated, remove brioche and let it cool. Slice and serve on top of the tomato coulis.
All photography credit goes to the Syndicat de Défense de l’Epoisses