Cheese Profile: Brillat-Savarin

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

-Sour, lactic, and smooth.-

I'm going to display a bit of my ineptitude when it comes to some aspects of food history but I know very little about Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin aside from his famous quote, "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." I did my best to read The Physiology of Taste for my thesis, but in all honesty that book is dryer than burnt toast. I also hear we was a big proponent of capital punishment which isn't so nifty either. Overall, not a guy I'm overly invested in. However, he did know how to make a quote with staying power. Aside from the now Iron Chef famous one he has one other I'm particularly fond of; "A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with one eye."

Ignoring the sexism and ableism (another reason not to really dig him too much) he makes a valid point. Dessert without cheese is like a good novel with the last page ripped out, horrifying and epically disappointing. I guess between this quote and the headway he made in the world validating the appreciation of good food and his waxing aphorism is why the famous maître fromager Henri Androuët named this cheese after him.

The cheese Brillat-Savarin hails from Normandy and is the descendent of a cheese called Magnum which is no longer made as the cheese maker who created it closed shop in the seventies. It's a super soft, triple cream Brie with a runny consistency that spreads like warm butter and tastes like it too. The white bloomy rind comes from whole milk being treated with Penicillium candidum which is the culture that also results in that delicious butter flavor. Mmm... butter.

-Runny deliciousness.-

Oh, yes. Did I mention the butter flavor? Yes, it tastes like butter. Anyone lucky enough to have a butter-like cheese named after them obviously did some good in the world. The cheese is soft and silky and melts across your tongue just like, yes, butter, dripping over a slice of warmed baguette.

At first taste you might find it incredibly salty but after a minute you realize that the salt-taste is somewhat sour and biting which is this cheese's characteristic lactic flavor which is highly pronounced. It isn't a whisper in the slightest but rather a banshee with a megaphone singing death metal. This is accompanied by an quieter earthy mushroom taste. All this conversation is controlled by this cheese's talk of butter.

It belongs on any dessert plate and is best paired with rich fruits such as dates and prunes or sweet Asian pears. However, when it comes to wine Brillat-Savarin has always been finicky, too salty for reds and far too creamy for whites; cheese author Patricia Michelson suggests a blonde beer and I agree.

Jean may have been a bit of a death-encouraging blowhard (seriously, read his book) but one cannot deny the man had a good point about cheese. His spoiled namesake is a prime example of this and any dessert or cheese plate without this delightful Brie would be an ugly thing indeed.

-I highly doubt that Mr. B-S was as intriguing as all this.-


  1. The first time I had this cheese it was described to me as a cheese you won't want to share with any of your friends. I kind of stick with that plan when I manage to get some of it!

  2. "banshee with a megaphone singing death metal."

    That's probably the best description of cheese I've ever heard.

  3. I absolutely love this cheese- so rich and smooth. Not something you should eat daily but a special treat when decadence is called for!

  4. It is indeed a great cheese.

    You should try reading him through the eyes of his own age, not so revisionistically.

    The chapter on turkey hunting is fascinating.


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