Wednesday, 13 November 2013


I don't approve of cheese-with-things-in. You know the sort of thing; industrial double Gloucester with little flecks of sage that's too green to be real, cheddar with chilis, all sorts of cream cheese with nuts or garlic or chocolate or some other ingredient that's supposed to make it taste of something, because without that, it tastes of nothing at all.

We're all sinful human creatures, though, and occasionally hypocrites, and yesterday I fell for a cheese I don't approve of and would never take home to introduce to my father, so to speak. It's a Brillat-Savarin encrusted with cranberries. (I know I could quibble, and pretend to myself that encrustations don't really count, it's only when you put cranberries inside the cheese that it's wrong... but that would be mere casuistry.)

Now Brillat-Savarin is probably the creamiest of French cheeses; not just in texture, but in taste, it seems hardly far removed from a good clotted cream. The one I tasted was Burgundian by provenance, though apparently - and unusually for a French cheese - it's produced in other places as well, in Normandy and in the Ile-de-France (which is, apparently, its original home).

The name comes from eitheenth-century epicure and food writer (and lawyer) Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, though the cheese only dates from the 1930s making it a bit of a Johnny-come-lately in the French cheese stakes. The milk for the cheese is enriched by the addition of cream; with a 75% fat content, it qualifies as a triple cream cheese (fat content, by the way, is measured as a percentage of the dry content of the cheese - as a percentage of the total mass of the cheese, it's far less, as this is a cheese with a high moisture content). It's a virginal cheese in visual appeal, with its soft plush white rind and almost white (the palest of pale yellows) interior, and only a tiny touch of sourness sets off the intensely creamy taste.

Like many other French cheeses, it's available at different ages, with slightly different characters;
  • fresh - the way I had it - it's incredibly creamy, 
  • a few weeks old, it's mushroomy, but still creamy - far more so than a Brie. The mouthfeel is different; a Brie sticks to the palate, a Brillat-Savarin dissolves creamily. (I notice that I'm overusing the word 'creamy', but there really is no alternative. Unctuous, perhaps...)
  • aged a little more (as 'Pierre Robert') it becomes earthier and saltier. 
The intense creaminess of the cheese makes it a natural pairing for a fruit that is slightly tart and can cut through and set off that sweetness. The cranberry coating did that well. Since it's a coating - the cheese simply seems to have been rolled in chopped cranberries before packing - a slice of cheese will include a mouthful or two that's nearly all cranberries, and a mouthful or two of almost pure cheese, and a good few mouthfuls somewhere in-between. It's not a homogeneous mix.

Add to this a hunk of roughly torn, crusty baguette, and you have a little taste of heaven. Only the harp music and perhaps a glass of champagne is missing.

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