It's hands-down one of the most popular types of cheese. We'd wager that most people have tasted it within their first year of eating solid food -- it's everywhere, that legendary brie.
But there's so many just plain BAD bries out there, with thick, rubbery rinds and bitter, off flavors. Read below for an unexpected splurge for when you have an extra few, and which one suits the budgeted caseophile. And even better yet, we've found the already well-priced option on sale at one of our favorite purveyors.
The world of brie is varied. But both of these options receive our wholehearted endorsement.
For the thrifty cheese consumer, the best brie these days is Brie de Nangis, which at on sale $10.99/lb (marked down from $16.99/lb) at Murray's Cheese is the closest thing to the real thing. It's produced in the Ile-de-France region of Brie's homeland and has the mushroomy nuance you've learned to crave. It's especially true to the real thing when you can find it especially ripe and runny.
If you're in the mood to fork over a few more bucks for your brie, we have an alternative suggestion that may very well convert you indefinitely. It's not from France, either. Pictured at top is Green Hill from Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia, a brie-style cheese, at $15.99 for a half-pound wheel at Murray's. Sweet Grass Dairy is a family owned and operated farm that started off dairying and moved to cheesemaking in the late 1990's when they saw its potential financial benefits.
Praised for an endlessly smooth paste, supple rind, and buttercream flavor, the milder Green Hill has a nuanced, never-ending finish, with redolent notes of popcorn and heavy cream. It's like a brie, with that eponymous bloomy rind, but has a subtlety and sweetness that sometimes only a smaller production cheese with such diligent, daily, personal care can muster.
But why is the Sweet Grass more than twice as much per pound? The substantial difference in price lies in the difference in production method. While the Brie de Nangis is an industrial cheese made in a huge cheesemaking plant with automated production, packaging, and shipping, Sweet Grass Dairy is a small, fairly new farm (by France's terms, in comparison), with less cheese made and more labor needed.
And even though the Brie de Nangis comes from overseas, it's consolidated with other cheeses on a boat shipment, which defrays overall cost and has minimal overall impact on the price of the cheese. It's cheaper to manufacture and its production is financially substantiated by the French government.
Green Hill's cows are out on grass, but the dairy is still feeling the pinch from rising domestic grain cost, which they use to supplement the herd's diet. Rising fuel costs don't help either, and the cheese is shipped by overnight air, a pretty costly measure which ups the retail price. But overall, as a smaller production cheese, it's more costly to produce, because the cheesemaker has not only cheese costs to cover, but also costs associated with farming and animal husbandry.
Whichever you choose, pick a round, low-acid white like a white Burgundy or a California chardonnay that isn't overly oaked. Or try a sweet brown Belgium-style ale. And enjoy!
Related: The Cheesemonger: Brie
Image: Flickr user pengrin licensed under Creative Commons.