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Époisses de Bourgogne - "King of All Cheeses"

Epoisses_2 Until now, I have tried to write about cheeses - both local and international - whose flavors and aromas are likely to appeal to a broad audience.  But a recent dinner at Central and a cheese plate I served to some friends have reminded me of one of my favorite "stinky" cheeses: Époisses de Bourgogne, or simply "Époisses" for short.  This washed-rind French cheese has a distinct bouquet that can turn some people off, but those folks don't know what they're missing.

Époisses (pronounced "ay-Pwahz") is not a subtle cheese; it is full-flavored with a tang that I will forever associate with the pale orange color of its rind.  And its aroma can be quite intense - you will begin to smell this cheese as soon as you open it up.  In fact, there is an oft-repeated rumor that this cheese has been banned from French public transportation because of its pungent nose.  Although we cannot get the fresh raw-milk variety that is so highly prized in Europe (and Montreal, I can say from experience), there is a pasteurized version produced by Fromagerie Berthaud - who call themselves "the original Époisses cheesemaker" and have been making the cheese since its resurgence in the 1950s.  The production method dates back to the sixteenth century, when Cistercian monks in the area first began making the cheese and passed the tradition on to local farmers.  Époisses received AOC status in 1991, making it a protected agricultural product. 

Thanksgiving_005Here in the United States, Époisses is most often found in small wooden boxes that protect the soft, round  discs of cheese.  They weigh 250 grams (slightly more than half a pound), and they generally retail for $16 to $20 each - I found it for $18.99 at Cheesetique, $18 at Calvert-Woodley and $15.99 at Arrowine.  The cheese is manufactured by heating cow's milk for at least sixteen hours using lactic acid, after which it is placed into molds, salted and allowed to dry.  From there, it is aged for at least six weeks, during which time it is washed in a mixture of water and pomace brandy (also known as marc)The brandy gives the cheese its color and its strong scent.

Allowed to sit at room temperature, Époisses practically melts inside its rind.  The soft, creamy interior is easily spread, and it is positively delicious on raisin or date bread, where its salty tang Thanksgiving_001offsets the deep sweetness of the dried fruit.  Nuts, grapes, and whole-grain crackers also work well as accompaniments to Époisses.   It makes a great component of a cheese plate alongside a firm slicing cheese and another flavorful cheese (sweeter blues are perfect).

If you find yourself with any Époisses left over after serving, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week and still retain its original flavor (and aroma).  Just make sure you wrap it tightly (or store it in some sort of airtight container).  This is essential to maintaining the quality of the cheese and to preventing its scent from permeating everything else in your fridge!

Époisses has certainly had its share of admirers throughout the years.  It was a favorite of Napoleon, and the description of Époisses as "king of all cheeses" comes from none other than Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (the 19th-century French gastronome who wrote The Physiology of Taste).  Although it is certainly something of an acquired taste, Époisses is a taste well worth acquiring.




I love this stinky, gooey cheese. I put the smell right up there with Red Hawk. Both aromatic (to put it nicely) AND delicious.


Before purchasing Epoisses you should give it a look over. Not every one for sale is ready to be sold. Likewise there are some that should be trashed, but still being sold. It is critical to look at the packaging and ensure that the cheese has not pulled away to far from the enges of the edges. The cheese should fill as close to the edge as possible. There should also be no buldging. Usually a sing it is overripe. If you get a good one. Always let is sti out to bring to room tempeture.

Mike Bober

Those are all really good points, Baccala - you definitely want to take a look inside the wooden box before you buy the cheese. Generally speaking, the safest approach is to buy from cheese shops you know and trust...but it never hurts to look before you buy.

Ramona's comparison to Red Hawk is right on - I would say Red Hawk (a Cowgirl Creamery cheese) is the best American washed-rind cheese I've ever tasted, and it does have a similar pungent smell.


I remember a few years back I did a "stinky" cheese class at Cheesetique. That was my first intro to stinky cheeses and Epoisses was one of the cheeses that we tasted. I don't think I've had any of it since, so I definitely need to pick up some of it now.


A friend has given me this cheese 6 times, she owns a cheese shop, I immediately toss it in the trash and take it outside. Rank.

Mike Bober

Sorry to hear that, Brain. I'm definitely jealous that you've got a friend who owns a cheese shop.

Sounds like you might want to let her know you're not a fan of Époisses, though - that's more than $100 worth of cheese you've thrown out!


OMG...a "cheese connoisseur" brought this to a get together. The entire kitchen was so smelly. He said "the stinkier, the better", so I tried it...absolutely amazing, and ever so creamy. Cheese lovers must try!! Thanks for posting this, b/c I couldn't remember the name.


I wish that I didn't eat with my nose so much. I have trouble with stinky fish (salmon, even when fresh, for example) and stinky cheese... but I *do* remember loving the taste of Epoisses though. Maybe next picnic.


I'm with you on the smell of salmon, Tanya. It's so beautiful, yet I can't get myself to like it. No way. No how. But stinky cheese usually rewards you with delicious and comples flavors. Now Limberger is a cheese I could never get past my nose. An old Grandma used to eat it with red onions on rye bread for New Year's. But..she kept it outside in her mailbox until it was time to eat!

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