The first time I had the wonderful, runny époisses cheese was two years ago in a small country restaurant just outside Amboise in the Loire Valley. The Auberge de la Croix Blanche in Veuves was not far from the gîte we rented with Chris and Caroline for a week two summers ago. At the end of our dinner at the auberge, which happened to be our last on that particular trip to France, the waitress brought out the always-welcome cheese platter. We each made our selections and mine included what the server called, “époisses.” As advised, I saved the époisses for last, enjoying the milder goat and sheep cheeses first. There are few initial tastes that have startled my palate such that my eyes close and I am left yearning for more, but this cheese was one of them. I immediately requested details because I knew that I must have époisses again. And again. And again. I asked the waitress to repeat the name of the cheese several times, as well as spell it, to make sure I could remember the source of this newfound taste sensation. Époisses is indeed a “smelly” cheese, in only the best sense of the word, that runs on your plate, begs to be eaten on crusty bread and whose distinctive flavor and creamy richness stay on your tongue for a long time. A soft cow’s milk cheese, it has its own regulated appellation (Appellation d’Origine Protegée), much like the government-controlled labels for wine (AOC). One of 43 French cheeses with the AOP designation (out of about 400 total), it was originally made by Cistercians monks (who else?) in the small town of Époisses in Burgundy.
A few days ago, Joe and I walked down the boutique-rich rue St. Louis en L’Île, enjoying some lèche-vitrine (licking the windows, the French expression for window shopping). One of the themes running through the photos Joe has taken on our trip so far is the gorgeous food displays in shop windows along the streets of Paris. The pictures he took on the main, but narrow, artery running the length of the Île St. Louis, an island in the Seine in the center of Paris, included one of a cheese shop, La Ferme Saint-Aubin. We stepped into this cremerie after “licking the windows” for several minutes and lo and behold, there was a beautiful round of époisses just waiting for me. I’m sure the shopkeeper was perplexed as to why this particular balsa wood cheese box elicited my audible gasp of pleasure, but seeing it did almost bring me to tears. I had only found époisses once in the U.S. at a gourmet market at Christmastime and to find it again during our early days in Paris was a gastronomic surprise. We proceeded to buy $35 worth of cheese and sausage, including the wheel of my beloved époisse, paying a premium, I’m sure, for making the purchase at the fashionable Île St. Louis shop. We let the cheese sit on our kitchen counter at room temperature for two days, allowing it to ripen and become perfect to eat. Along with some sweet butter, a fresh baguette, paper-thin slices of salami and a bottle of Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, our époisses was the centerpiece of a perfect meal.