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Brie: How a Cheese from Rural France Became King for a Day
Brie—a French cheese with a delectable history. Check out Groupon’s guide to learn the story behind the creamy creation.
Nestled between the Seine and Marne valleys amid idyllic forests and wheat fields, France’s Brie region has become synonymous with a snack. Soft and richly flavored, Brie’s namesake cheese has a storied history—a tale of kings, common folk, and cows—and an equally rich flavor. Often taking the shape of inch-thick, flat, pancake-sized rounds, brie’s color matches its buttery texture. On the exterior of the rounds, a snow-white, edible rind of mold—usually penicillium candidum—helps ripens the cheese from the outside in. Since this process is ongoing, the age of cheese determines its sharpness; young brie is light and mild, getting darker in color and more pungent in flavor as it ages.
Though the cheese enjoys international popularity, brie sold within the United States is rarely authentic. US law prevents unpasteurized cow’s milk from being imported unless it’s been aged for 60 days, blocking true French brie from crossing the border until it’s overripe. Still, grocery stores throughout the country carry a pasteurized version of brie made domestically, including in such dairy epicenters as Wisconsin.
Brie’s emergence as a fromage favori owes a great deal to its reputation among French royalty. French emperor Charlemagne reportedly pronounced it “one of the most marvelous of foods” and requested two crates a year to round out his meals. Legend also has it that Louis XVI’s dying wish was for a final taste of brie, preferably sliced by the guillotine instead. In fact, the cheese received its own coronation at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, when ambassadors of 30 nations met to reshape Europe after the Napoleonic wars. There, a friendly contest to determine the world’s best cheese led to a unanimous vote in favor of brie, earning it the impromptu title of “King of Cheeses.”