This cheese is almost mythological. I mentioned its rumoured existence some time ago here but I have never found it. Until now.
My preferred cheese shop has set up a little area called the Little Shop of Horrors. Here they display a range of gruesome misfits, a rogues’ gallery of cheeses. The tough, gnarly cheeses that you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley when you’re only armed with some flimsy cheese knife and a cream cracker. But these are the same cheeses that demand and deserve respect.
As a slight aside, I have a bugbear with people who say that people must earn respect. This is simply not true. We have a duty to respect everyone we meet or at least respect their existence and their rights. Of course we are not required to be everyone’s friend but we should at least take the time to understand that everyone has a past and history that we know pretty much nothing about. We should not assume anything but we should grant everyone the fundamental right of being respected as a human. That sounds like some terrible platitudinous self help book so I apologise for the phrasing but not the sentiment.
Brie is a popular cheese and it’s fair to say that pretty much everyone knows it. It is one of France’s classics. There are two main Bries, the Brie de Meaux and the Brie de Melun. The Melun is a more powerful and pungent Brie and the Meaux is more approachable and acceptable to the majority of palates.
A Brie is normally matured for a month or two. But what happens if you have too much Brie. OK. It’s a fair question: Can you really have too much Brie? I guess yes must be the answer since it seems that, during in a time of such abundance, there was too much Brie. And the Brie was matured for a lot longer. Brie Noir, or Black Brie if you must, has been matured for around ten months. Some will say matured and some will say abandoned. The pale, young Bries will belong to the foppish aristocracy. The tough Brie Noir will belong with the peasants and the workers, easily transported in pockets and bags.
Gone is the ivory paste and the white downy rind. Now we have a cheese with a paste the colour of dark vanilla fudge, if paste is the word for something as firm as a cheddar but drier. The rind is more brown now and cracked, not just little delicate Japanese crackling in pottery though, these are fissures.
The smell is stronger and obviously less fresh than a typical Brie but it is not offensive. It’s not an eye-watering cough inducing smell. You know it’s going to have a kick though.
And the texture is akin to other aged cheeses such as the Comte. It’s not as granular as a parmesan but it is more punchy. It’s taste is quite caramelly but with some sharpness. It is strong though, so don’t eat it as the first cheese on the cheese board. The taste is very, very long.
But here’s the next odd thing. It is sometimes recommended that you eat this cheese with some coffee. Not wine. Coffee. The more ardent connoisseur will take it with their breakfast coffee. I discussed it in the cheese shop and we decided that an espresso would be ideal. Perversely it works. The coffee’s slight bitterness adds to the caramelly sweetness and there’s almost a hint of cocoa. You don’t need very much either, imagine it’s a small sweet on the side of your saucer since that’s all you need. This isn’t something to eat in great slabs. At €60 per kg, you might be wise to measure your intake. But you don’t need much. A small piece is enough to give you the taste and experience. Perhaps like good design or a fine and pure chocolate, less really is more.