For the first time since starting this blog, I took out my bible, Steven Jenkins‘ Cheese Primer, to see what he had to say about Epoisses, my cheese of the week. Steven is known for his strong opinions on cheese, and since Epoisses has been around much longer than the book’s 1996 publication date, I knew it would be included. Sure enough, he waxes on about Epoisses, calling it one of his favorites cheeses in the world, but there’s a catch. Since Epoisses is French and made with raw milk, it must be aged more than 60 days to enter the United States (thanks a lot, USFDA), and Steven did not recommend the pasteurized version. Hmm, well, I figured if Wine Spectator put Epoisses on its 100 great cheeses list, something must have changed in the past 12 years to merit such a ranking. So I threw caution to the wind and bought myself a (pricey) wheel.
There’s no way of putting this mildly – Epoisses is a stinker. How stinky, you ask? Well, according to a BBC story from 2004, Epoisses has been banned from French public transportation systems because its odor is so strong. And this is a French cheese! My husband is not a fan of stinky cheese, so I warned him ahead of time that I’d be opening the carton, and he hid out in the basement while I tasted it. But then when he came upstairs he claimed he could still smell it, and I have to admit the smell was lingering in the kitchen.
But the taste – oh. my. Lord. This cheese is unbelievable. Though most cheesemongers tell you to let cheeses sit on the counter for one hour prior to serving, I let mine sit for two or three because I like them to be really soft and runny. And it was a good call on my part. The Epoisses looked almost like a creme-filled donut, and when I cut into it and the inside came gushing out, it was heaven on a cheese spreader. The cheese was silky, buttery and decadent – every bit as good as Chaource (one of my favorites) and with a little something extra. Maybe it was the slightly stinky (but in the best way) taste that washed over my mouth after each bite. This cheese is a keeper, which is good because I had to buy the entire wheel. Epoisses gets so runny that the lady who helped me at Premier Cheese Market said they will only sell it whole.
As for the wine pairing, however, I wasn’t satisfied. I did my research online and found that Epoisses is often matched with a white Burgundy or a Pinot Noir, which makes sense because the cheese is from Burgundy. I headed off to Surdyk’s and picked out a Pinot Noir from Burgundy and popped it open last night. I don’t know if it was the particular bottle I bought or just a personal preference, but I didn’t think it was a good pairing. The wine did nothing to enhance the taste of the cheese, and the Epoisses made the wine fall flat on my tongue. (The wine did taste good later that evening when I had vegetable soup and a tomato and mozzarella panini, so it wasn’t a total loss.) But in hindsight, I should have gone with the white Burgundy.
So skip the Pinot, but go for the Epoisses. Your tastebuds will thank you. Can’t promise your nose will, though.