The Perfect Holiday Cheese: Brie

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Once called “The King of Cheeses,” Brie cheese is almost synonymous with the holidays, even more so because Champagne is its famous “Wine Partner.” The buttery, toasty, creamy flavor of Brie goes perfectly with Champagne, and Champagne goes perfectly with parties and the holidays. It’s a great match.

Brie is a soft cow’s cheese named after Brie, the French region from which it originated. It’s unusually flat for a cheese wheel and noted for its white, powdery mold rind (which is typically eaten), and of course, for its interior, which is pale creamy/butter-like in coloring and (at room temperature) pudding-like soft.

Like fine wine, the flavor of Brie and its quality depends largely upon the ingredients used and its manufacturing environment, but all have some degree of subtle flavor nuances in addition to a main component (in this case dairy). Brie flavor nuances range from hazelnut to herbs and fruit.

Brie’s exceptional buttery flavor comes from its butterfat content. It also creates an incredibly creamy cheese.

How buttery?

When you consider that most heavy (whipping) cream you buy has a butterfat of 36% to as high as 40%, you might be astounded to know that Double Cream Brie must (by law) have a butterfat content of at least 60%!

And Triple Cream Brie 75%!!

And those are minimums!!

If you ever wanted to know why Brie tastes so buttery, there’s your answer.

Brie cheese is typically allowed to “mature” for about four months to develop its characteristic white mold but may be aged much longer to develop additional (stronger) flavors.

Although Brie is a French cheese by origin, as with Champagne wine (often called sparkling wine), it is possible to obtain Brie made in other places, like Wisconsin.

But in France, the French government officially certifies only two types of cheese to be sold under that name: Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun. Both enjoy the protection of Appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) status.

How do you serve Brie?

Serving Brie is as easy as letting it sit out until the cheese is at room temperature and then serving it with crackers or slices of fresh or toasted French bread. You can also serve it gently warmed in a crock or wrapped in pastry and fully baked.

Its most common garnishment/condiment pairings are with fruits and nuts. Figs are an exceptionally popular pairing.

Brie Basics in Review:

  • The white, moldy Brie rind is edible and is usually eaten along with the softer interior.
  • Brie is served at room temperature, slightly warmed or baked.
  • Champagne goes particularly well with Brie.
  • Under-ripe Brie will be hard in the center and have little smell. Correctly ripened Brie is evenly thick and even slightly bulged at the center. It has a slightly sweet smell. Over-ripe Brie is slightly darkened on the edges, the rind may be a bit gummy, and it may appear slightly sunken in the middle. It may also have an ammonia-like odor (which is not harmful) but is a natural part of the aging process.
  • Once Brie is correctly ripened, it should be refrigerated and then consumed within a few days.
  • Brie stops aging once it is sliced, so if it is not properly aged when you cut into it, it will not improve.
  • Hooray! Ripe, uncut Brie may be frozen for up to 6 months.

And of course, I can’t leave you without a Brie recipe, so here is a Basic Baked Brie recipe your guests will love.

There are many different fruit spreads that can be used, but fig is my favorite and many different types of pastry crusts (pie dough, biscuit dough, Brioche dough, or again, my favorite, Puff Pastry Dough). Experimentation is the secret to finding what you like best.

Basic Baked Brie

Serves 8

1 1 Kilo Wheel of Ripe Brie Cheese
1 – 6 oz Jar Dalamatia Fig Spread
½ Cup Toasted Pecans, Walnuts or Sliced Almonds
2 – 9” Dia. Pastry Dough (see notes above)
1 Egg
¼ Cup Milk

  1. Choose pastry dough of choice and roll out on a floured surface until you have a round approximately ¼” thick for Brioche or Biscuit Dough and 1/8” thick for Pie dough or Puff Pastry Dough. The dough needs to be rolled at least 2” larger than the size of your Brie wheel. Place the dough on a cookie sheet.
  2. Spread the Fig Spread over the surface of the center of the dough ONLY to the size of your actual Brie. You should have about 2” of dough left around the perimeter, with no spread.
  3. Top the fig spread with the toasted nuts.
  4. Place the Brie round on top of the nuts and spread. Leave the rind on the Brie.
  5. Beat together the egg and milk and brush over the side and top of the Brie.
  6. Gently fold the exposed, additional dough against the side of the Brie. There should be enough additional dough that ½ inch or so also folds over on top of the Brie itself.
  7. Cut the 2nd diameter of crust to match the diameter of the exposed top of the Brie wheel (now with pastry on its bottom and side).
  8. Paint whatever dough has been folded over on top of the Brie with some of the egg wash, and carefully cover the Brie with the second crust, sealing it on the edge.
  9. Turn the entire pastry-wrapped Brie over, and place it once again on a non-stick cookie sheet.
  10. Paint the surface with the remaining egg wash. You can decorate the surface with any additional dough pieces you may have, using the egg wash as “glue.”
  11. Preheat your oven to 400 F.
  12. Before placing the Baked Brie in the oven, make 2 or 3 small incisions on top of the dough to allow steam an escape route.
  13. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the pastry is fully baked and golden.
  14. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool 20 to 30 minutes before cutting to allow cheese to set, especially if it is triple-cream Brie.
  15. Serve with crackers or slices of French bread.