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  • We Get Letters – v. 17: Cheese and Temperature

    From the inbox:

    Hi Kate,

    I love your blog. Thanks for your cheese suggestions. I’m hoping you can help me with a cheese question.

    I’ve been searching the web for the last hour on brie. I’m disappointed. It seems that lots of folks want to cut the rind off before serving, or dress it up with honey and puff pastry. I haven’t found any info on how to ripen your brie so it is ready in time for a party. I was at a very nice wine tasting today where they served very nice cheeses. I loved the Le Delice and Saint Andre cheeses, and they were served ripe- soft and delicious. The Presidente Brie on the other hand, was warm but not ripe- tough throughout, and cut almost like it was cold. Also, folks were eating the center out of the brie which was kind of weird, but made sense as it was so hard. Are we Americans simply baking our Brie and eating the center out rather than learning how to ripen it? The whole situation seems very odd.

    I wish I knew how to time the ripening of my Brie. Right now I just leave it in the fridge forever until I remember I forgot about it, then warm it, and dig in to fabulousness. Although it is possible that my love of old stinky cheeses is making me turn Brie into a new animal- a limburger alternative.

    Thanks for any insight,


    Ah Elisa, you’ve discovered something that shocked me when I finally understood what was going on. In short, we Americans are woefully uneducated in the way of cheese. For proof of this fact, one needs only to peruse the dairy aisle and see the huge chunks of orange monstrosities that can only be called cheese in the loosest definition of the term.

    But we are getting smarter, even if it’s only through small steps. That people are now eating brie* on a regular basis is a good thing, as I think brie can be best called a “gateway cheese”. If served well, brie can help people move on to more complex and interesting cheeses.

    But there’s the question, isn’t it? How does one serve cheese well? The answer is simple, but may require you to take a leap of faith.

    For years we’ve been told “don’t leave food out!”, for fear of disease and expanding bacteria that causes it. What’s been lost is that bacteria and cheese are best of buds and their friendship should be encouraged. The most efficient way to do this is to let the entire cheese get to room temperature. The side benefit from this is that some cheeses will get to that beautiful runny consistency, including some of the better bries that are out there.

    My own rule of thumb when it comes to cheeses is the following: Once I purchase a cheese, if I intend to eat all of it within 2 days, it will never see my refrigerator. This may abhor some of you out there. Some of you may abhor my choice. I won’t deny that there may be risks involved, but the rewards far outweigh them. For the record, an eater of room temperature cheese has about a 1 in 100,000 chance of getting the disease that comes from eating at risk foods (listeria). However, if you’re pregnant or if your immune system is compromised, you may want to consider your options, as you’re more at risk.

    Lest you think that I am alone in this recommendation, let me point you to a tool that Jack had pointed out to me, the Cheese Safe. The goal of the safe? To provide a space on your countertop that allows your cheese to ripen over a day or two.

    In getting back to your question Elise, here’s what I recommend. Let your brie sit out at least 24 hours prior to when you wish to serve it. When you serve it, dig in to the soupy, runny part that the rest of your friends are ignoring. The taste will be worth it.

    * It should be noted that most bries found in the States are in fact, not brie at all. True brie is made with raw milk, and not pasteurized milk. It makes all the difference in the world.

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    Tags: cheese, Tips and Tricks, We Get Letters