Epoisses is famous in the cheese world for being one of France's strongest washed rind cheeses.
Regardless of its ripeness, it is always full-flavoured and relatively strong-smelling. If it is quite ripe, which isn't uncommon if you are buying it in Canada, it can be runny and relatively powerful on the olfactory senses. Epoisses is not for the faint of heart. If you know someone who says they love cheese, but they really mean they love cheddar, then this is not for them!
Having said all that, like most washed rind cheeses, the aroma of the cheese and the look tend to be more intimidating than the actual taste of the cheese. Although Epoisses is powerful, it is often far less startling than the nose would imply. The flavour tends to be a little earthy with a woodsy note and a slightly fruity taste at the finish, perhaps thanks to the Marc used during the washing process. Like most washed rind cheeses, it does have an expected salty presence, but not in an unpleasant way.
Cheese Name: Epoisses AOP
Origin: Burgundy, France
Milk Type: Cow's Milk
Style: Washed Rind
Description: Epoisses is a soft, washed rind cheese made in Burgundy, in the village of Epoisses. It has been made there for almost 500 years. It has been AOP/AOC designated since 1991, meaning it has a governing body that controls the use of the name, so it must be from Burgundy and made traditionally. Epoisses is made from cow's milk and can be unpasteurized or thermized. Thermized milk (heated to 140 degrees for 15 seconds, compared to pasteurized milk heated to 145 degrees for 30 minutes) is still unpasteurized but makes the cheeses slightly more stable for shipping.
The wheels of Epoisses are brushed with Marc de Bourgogne during the ripening process, which creates a wrinkly orange rind that looks a bit brain-like. When very young, the rind can be slightly dry and a little powdery looking and will progress to a much darker, damp-looking rind when fully ripe. The center of the cheese is pale straw-coloured and tends to be very runny or oozy at any rate.
There are four makers of this unique treasure still in the area, and the fight to keep this cheese alive through challenging times over the past century has been led by the maker Berthaut. You will see their version of Epoisses in a two-hundred-and-fifty-gram wheel, packed in a handsome wooden box, or in a larger format to be cut by your cheese monger into saleable-size pieces. The smaller version is self-contained, making it safer for travelling and presenting, but it will likely be riper as it is smaller and therefore ripens more quickly than the larger wheels.
I chose to extol the virtues of Epoisses this month to coincide with International Riesling Day on March 13. What a great reason to open a bottle of any Riesling, but for Epoisses, a bottle of off-dry riesling would be an amazing match. Stronger washed rind cheeses marry beautifully with the rich, fruity sweetness of an off-dry or sweet riesling. It is the perfect marriage, and why I love to serve more pungent cheeses after dinner with a dessert-style wine so that you can enjoy the cheese and the wine, and one doesn't drown out the other.
Rye bread or a good crusty baguette is perfect as a vessel for your Epoisses; honestly, it doesn't need much else. I would even go so far as to recommend you serve it as a one-cheese cheese course. So commit, and let it be the star.
GOW suggested wine pairings: