Epoisses cheese is an artisan French raw milk cheese with a characteristic strong odor and runny interior. Like many traditional French cheeses, the intense pungency of the cheese can be unappealing for some consumers, while others revel in it. In the United States, where raw milk cheeses are banned unless they have been aged for at least 60 days, a pasteurized version of Epoisses cheese is available, with a much less vibrant flavor.
The cheese originated in Epoisses, a town in the Burgundy region of France. A neighboring town, Brochon, makes a similar cheese, known as Ami du Chambertin. The cheese has been made since at least the 1700s, and is said to have been a favorite of Napoleon's. Many other famous French food critics and personalities have been fans of Epoisses cheese, which is usually served after dinner as a cheese to finish a meal.
To make the cheese, milk is gently coagulated and then drained to remove the whey. The remaining curds are salted and poured into molds without being heavily compacted. As the cheeses firm in the molds, they are washed, first in brine and later in brandy or wine. As a result, the cheeses develop a characteristic salty flavor, along with an orange to reddish rind. The cheese is allowed to age for around two months before being sent to market, and it needs to be eaten quickly.
A good Epoisses cheese will smell pungent, and will resemble a gooey paste when cut open. The cheese is often served with spoons, so that consumers can spoon the cheese out onto hearty artisan breads and some fruits. The cheese may also be paired with strong red wines and spicy whites. If the cheese smells strongly of ammonia or is intensely runny, it is no longer good to eat and it should be discarded.
In 1956, a cheesemaker named Robert Berthaut, along with his wife, became concerned about French artisan cheeses. He began to make Epoisses, along with an assortment of other cheeses. Today the Berthaut label is associated with Epoisses cheese made in the traditional style. Berthaut also makes a version which is acceptable for sale in the United States, since the milk is heated enough to kill potentially harmful bacteria. Some producers also label the cheese Epoisses de Bourgogne, to indicate that it is an authentic Epoisses cheese from Burgundy. In 1991, the cheese was awarded an Appellation of Controlled Origin, to preserve its history and integrity.