“BRATTLEBORO—YOU MIGHT THINK it’s very odd that a cheesemonger would tell you not to buy a cheese, but here I go: if you’re going to shell out the bucks to buy brie, you’re better off spending that money on another variety.
Now, there’s really nothing wrong with brie… if you’re in France. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration’s regulations on dairy products, if a cheese is made of unpasteurized milk, it has to be aged for at least 60 days.
But real brie is made of unpasteurized milk, and it’s aged for just a few weeks. (At 60 days aged, you wouldn’t want it. It’ll have the distinct and powerful aroma and flavor of ammonia, except you can’t wash the floor with it. Don’t bother trying to trim it — just throw it away.)
So, for export to the United States, France makes pasteurized brie.
The difference in flavor between raw milk brie and pasteurized brie is remarkable. Whereas the brie we get in this country pretty much just tastes like cultured butter, The Real Thing is complex, eggy, more pungent than you’d expect, and has strong notes of dirt-floor basement and a damp field of mushrooms on the forest floor after weeks of rain. These are actually desirable traits.
The other problem with export brie is that nearly all of the major brands you find in the grocery stores are made in big factories, not in quaint little rural huts. And big companies tend to standardize and streamline production, so the brie you find in the grocery store — and sometimes even in the specialty shops — has stabilizers added to the curds, which is not a good thing if you actually like to eat cheese.
Stabilizers slow down the ripening process to satisfy the vagaries of the food distribution system, which isn’t designed to handle delicate cheeses. Much in the same way tomatoes are picked too young, so they (supposedly) ripen on the customer’s counter and not in the warehouse (but all we ever end up with are pink rocks), such brie is altered so it will not ripen too soon.
But the sad fact is, brie with stabilizers never properly ripens, so it will never ooze seductively across a plate the way natural, unadulterated brie will….”