Epoisses de Bourgogne

Region: Bourgogne (Burgundy), France
Milk: Raw cow’s milk
Texture: soft, almost runny

Époisses (pronounced “ay-Pwahz”) de Bourgogne has a powerful rich flavour with a pungent smell; the pate, a mouth watering taste of sweet, salty and creamy milk flavours. The pate is fine textured. Epoisses is an unpasteurized milk cheese made from cows. The washed-rind cheese is washed in marc de Bourgogne (a spirit similar to Grappa). Epoisses is a round cheese about 10 to 18 centermeters in diameter. It has a soft redish-orange color, and is sold in circle wooden boxes.

Époisses de Bourgogne is a traditional perennial French raw milk cheese with a characteristic orange exterior, strong odor, and runny interior. Époisses cheese is considered the second smelliest cheese on earth, second to only the infamous Vieux-Boulogne. The odor emitted from this wash-rind cheese is so strong that reportedly it has been banned from French public transport. To the average consumer the intense smell can be overwhelming, while to the cheese connoisseur it is considered culinary gold. The cheese has been made there since at least the 1700s, and is said to have been a favourite of Napoleon’s.

The cheese is manufactured by heating cow’s milk for at least sixteen hours using lactic acid, after which it is placed into molds, salted and allowed to dry.  From there, it is aged for at least six weeks, during which time it is washed in a mixture of water and pomace brandy (also known as marc).  The brandy gives the cheese its color and its strong scent.

Allowed to sit at room temperature, Époisses practically melts inside its rind. The cheese has a powerful rich flavour with a pungent smell; the pate, a mouth watering taste of sweet, salty and creamy milk flavours. The pate is fine textured. The rind is regularly washed in Marc, this adds to its complexity and fascinating taste.The soft, creamy interior is easily spread, and it is positively delicious on raisin or date bread, where its salty tang offsets the deep sweetness of the dried fruit.  Nuts, grapes, and whole-grain crackers also work well as accompaniments to Époisses.   It makes a great component of a cheese plate alongside a firm slicing cheese and another flavourful cheese (sweeter blues are perfect). The cheese is usually served with red Burgundy wine or Sauternes.

The description of Époisses as “king of all cheeses” comes from none other than Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (the 19th-century French gastronome who wrote The Physiology of Taste).  Although it is certainly something of an acquired taste, Époisses is a taste well worth acquiring.