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Friday, June 8, 2012

Coulommiers the Cheese Tastes Like an Excellent Brie. Is it Really a Brie ?

Coulommiers cheese.
Behind the French Menu. 
Bryan Newman
 The Coulommiers PD0 cheese is also called the Petit Brie de Coulommiers.

The Coulommiers Cheese.
   CoulommiersCoulommiers; the cow’s milk cheese that tastes just like a Brie, though officially it is not; and Coulommiers the town that gave this cheese its name.  
   The Coulommiers’ cheese is creamy, with at least 45% fat, and made in farm made-versions with un-pasteurized milk and dairy versions with pasteurized milk. The cheese, depending on the milk used, is aged for five to eight weeks before being sold. This cheese is often called the Petit Brie de Coulommiers, the small brie of Coulommiers, as the cheese’s taste is often mistaken for the two more famous AOC Bries. The cheese is also called the Petit Brie, a small Brie, since it is sold in 500 grams wooden boxes while the two AOC Bries only come in 2.70 kilo wheels. The Coulommiers thin wooden box may also make you think of a large Camembert; however, the cheese tastes like a Brie and the boxes are all clearly marked where it is made. 
A ripe Coulommiers cheese.
Photograph courtesy of zigazou76
   Where did the Coulommiers cheese’s association with Brie begin?  To begin with the town of Coulommiers is in the old French region called Brie Française. Coulommiers was then  famous for its annual fair and that included their  many milk cheeses that were made in and around the town for hundreds of years. In the modern département of Seine-et-Marne that now includes the old region of Brie Française are the two famous Brie making towns; Meaux famous for its Brie de Meaux AOC, just 28 kms away by road, and the town of Melun famous for its Brie de Melun AOC is 50 kms away. The recipe for the two famous Bries and the Coulommiers cheese, according to those who study these matters, is the same, however, when in 1980 the cheeses of Meaux and Melun received their AOC grading the cheese makers of Coulommiers must have been sleeping on their watch.  The Petit Brie of Coulommiers can now only be called Coulommiers though it still tastes like an excellent Brie.  Despite this cheese’s lack of its AOC the Coulommiers farmers and dairies make a great deal of their excellent cheese. Coulommiers cheese my not be well known outside France; but inside France it is in the top ten of cheeses sold in the French market. Every supermarket and cheese shop sells this popular cheese.
Coulommiers in forms before beginning the aging process.
Photograph courtesy of  Minor9th.
   With the Coulommiers cheese lacking an AOC to copyright its name many copies of the cheese are made in other areas. Now the cheese makers of Coulommiers have requested a European Union PDO label. With an European PDO “Protected Designation of Origin” label on the box you will know that the Coulommiers you are buying is a Coulommiers PDO  and comes from the town of the same name.
    A Brie from Meaux and Melun, is a 2.70 kilo (6lbs) wheel and that makes taking a whole cheese home problematic.  I have, many times, bought cheese wedges, cut from a wheel of Brie de Meaux or a Brie de Melun to take home. Unfortunately, in that manner they need to be eaten within one or two days of arriving home; cut cheeses never improve in the refrigerator and at home they quickly begin to lose flavor. The other option, and one that I can recommend, is to buy one a 500 gram smaller box of farm-made Coulommiers cheese; however, the farm-made cheeses are made with unpasteurized cheese and so check your customs regulations before taking one home. The same cheeses are also made in dairies with pasteurized milk, so depending on your import restrictions buy the pasteurized version. Like other cheeses made with pasteurized and unpasteurized versions the difference is noticeable in a blind tasting, but any good Brie or a Coulommiers is better than no Brie.  Buy the Coulommiers that you are going to take home in cheese shop that can vacuum pack it for travel and, ask for a cheese that will be ready in two or five days. To buy cheese in France along with suggestions for taking cheese home and keeping an imported cheese at home see my post: Buying Cheese in France. Bringing French Cheese Home. A Cheese Lexicon for France.
   Coulommiers, the town that gave its name to the cheese is a pretty, small, floral and old French town. Even today it has less than 15,000 residents, but it has kept much of its Middle Ages architecture along with the obligatory narrow streets. Above the town is a relatively well preserved castle of the Knights Templar that was built in the 12th century; shades of the DaVinci Code!  Within the town the office of the Ministry of Tourism provides walking routes, and there are interesting bridges crossing the Grand Marin River that runs through the town, as do three canals. When looking up Coulommiers on a map or on the web do not confuse it with the town called Coulommiers-la-Tour, that town is over 130 kms away in the région of the Centre.   
The town of Coulommiers and its Cathedral.
Photograph courtesy of Daniel Marinaud
    For those of you who enjoy the spirit of France's local culinary fetes consider visiting the Foire Internationale aux Fromages et aux Vins de Coulommiers, The International Fair of Cheeses and Wines from Coulommiers.  The dates of this fair change every year between March and April; the French Government Tourism Office can advise you of the exact dates of the next Fair.
Even the  Confrerie des Amis du Brie de Meaux, the brotherhood of the friends of the Brie de Meaux, visit the Coulommiers fair. Checking on the competition?
Photograph by courtesy of abac077 
   Despite the inclusive name of this fair, an obvious center of attraction is of course built around the locally made Coulommiers cheese.   Not too many wines come from around Coulommiers, but those that do are exhibited and sold along with other wines from slightly farther away.  The area also produces, and exhibits, their local sheep’s and goat’s cheeses along with locally produced butter, honey and beer.  For immediate consumption are locally made breads, cakes, sausages, pates, and many other goodies.
   Part or the fair is for the local farmers who can meet, discuss and show their lambs, beef cattle  and cattle raised for milk; they also show off their horses and working horses that are special breeds. Seeing a genuine farmers' meeting and market is an interesting change in our normal routines so check the times and dates.

Two of the special Coulommiers breed of ponies that also brings the town visitors.
Photograph by courtesy of  Mathieu Arnold
    You can order, ahead of time, places for their shows celebratory dinner and dance, though do expect a few speeches in French, and, of course, the cheese plate towards the end that will probably be only their own Coulommiers cheese.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan G. Newman
Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012.