We seem to be on a French kick here at Sippity Sup. I suppose that’s a natural reaction to travel. In fact, I always get a little obsessed by the places we take this little blog. With that in mind I recently found myself lingering at Murray’s Cheese counter pondering piles of French cheese. While contemplating conventional favorites like Comté, Brie, and Camembert, I came across a round wooden box labeled Époisses. I looked at the word and began to try and sound it out. I guess my rudimentary French caught the attention of the guy behind the counter who came to my linguistic rescue and told me a few things about the Époisses cheese in my hand.
First off, he said, Époisses is the most famous of the French “funky” cheeses. Which made me feel a little silly having never heard of it before. He explained that Époisses is a soft, buttery cheese with a “fragrant” orange rind. I generally like “bloomy” soft cheeses like brie and camembert (which also come in a cute round box). I eat them white mold rind and all. I also enjoy the sticky-skinned, washed-rind varieties with profoundly unmentionable aromas. The cheesemonger told me that Époisses is so funky that it’s banned from being carried on public transport in France. In cheese talk, “funk” means “stink”. Époisses is stinky cheese. Not one to let a new taste (or aroma) pass me by, I carefully lifted the top of the box. The cheese inside is wrapped in a permeable, sniffable wrapper.
Ah, monkey fur and horse sweat! So on a whiff and a whim I brought the cheese home.
Right off the bat, I’m sure you’re wondering how anything whose fragrance could politely be called “funky” or less forgivingly “barnyard” could taste any good at all. Well, all I can say is that it’s a gastronomic miracle. Despite the whiff of donkey butt, Époisses is silky and sensuous with surprising mellow flavors. I decided to serve this aromatic fromage as an appetizer-sized, open-faced grilled cheese. I balanced the ooey-gooey texture and meaty flavors with pickled shallots and some sweet and tangy onion jam I adapted from San Fransisco chef Michael Lee Rafidi.
Oh, and to save you the embarrassment I faced I can’t leave you guessing how to pronounce Époisses. It may start with an “E”, but that “E” is pronounced as a long “A”. The “es” at the end of gets dropped – so just ignore it. The most important thing to know about the pronunciation of Époisses is that “oi” in the middle does not sound like the “oi” in “oi vey”. It’s properly pronounced as “wah”. Put that all together and Époisses is pronounced “ay-PWAHSS,” with the emphasis on the second half of the word. GREG
Type: Unpasteurized cows’ milk
Origin: Burgundy, France
Process: Washed with water and brandy three times a week for six weeks.
Texture: At 30 days, slightly grainy; at 40 days, a sticky, smooth, velvety paste–“spoonable” at room temperature when well-aged
Shape: a round, flat disc
Color: pale orange at 30 days; deeper, orange/red/brown at 40 days
Rind: Thin , edible rind washed with brine and brandy, wrinkles as it ages
Flavor: pungently meaty, earthy, salty, nutty