I can still remember the first time I tried Époisses – it was at a party three years ago, and when it appeared on the table a hush fell over the kitchen. “Who brought the Époisses?” someone whispered. It was as if a tiger had entered the room.
In the cheese world, Époisses is a big cat. As one cheesemonger told me recently, “If I had to pick a favorite French cheese, it would be Époisses. It’s good at any age.”
First, there is the golden rind to love – it’s tiger orange and just a bit crispy, like the flaky exterior of a croissant. Then the center: at peak ripeness, it’s pudding soft, almost molten. You can scoop it up like fondu, claw at it with torn-off pieces of baguette.
There is something untamed, too, about the aroma of Époisses, which is why it has been banned on French trains, or so the rumor goes. I think it smells like the exhaust fan at a steak house: beefy, oniony, wonderful.
The taste is hardly feral. Imagine silken mushrooms soaked in brandy – see, it’s quite genteel. I serve it every Thanksgiving, and nobody ever runs from the room. If the smell is overpowering, burn some unscented candles.
Époisses pairs well with dried fruit (figs, apricots, pears) and bread. I always serve it with a glass of Saint-Veran white Burgundy. Interestingly, my vegetarian friends love this cheese best, probably because it reminds them of their turkey-munching days.
Some say the monks who developed this meaty, washed-rind cheese excelled at it because they had to abstain from meat so often. Genius.
When you buy Époisses, look for the Berthaut family label. The Berthauts hand-ladle the curds into forms, which is essential to the texture, and wash the rinds in brandy three times a week.
Perhaps now you see why this is such an extraordinary cheese?
For more cheese purring, visit Madame Fromage