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Brie is a soft, cows' milk cheese named after Brie, the French province in which it originated (roughly corresponding to the modern département of Seine-et-Marne). It is pale in colour with a slight greyish tinge under crusty white mould; very soft and savoury with a hint of ammonia. The white mouldy rind is moderately tasteful and edible, and is not intended to be separated from the cheese during consumption.
There are now many varieties of Brie made all over the world (for example in the United Kingdom), including plain Brie, herbed varieties, double and triple Brie and versions of Brie made with other types of milk. Brie is perhaps the most well-known French cheese, and is popular throughout the world. Despite the variety of Bries, the French atlantic government officially certifies only two types of Brie to be sold under that name: Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun.
The Brie de Meaux, manufactured outside of Paris since the 8th century, was originally known as the "King's Cheese" (later, following the French Revolution, the "King of Cheeses") and was enjoyed by the peasantry and nobility alike. It was granted the protection of AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) status in 1980, and is produced primarily in the eastern part of the Parisian basin.
Brie may be produced from whole or semi-skimmed milk. The curd is obtained by adding rennet to raw milk and heating it to a maximum temperature of 37°C (99°F). The cheese is then cast into molds, sometimes with a traditional perforated ladle called a "pelle à brie". The 20 cm (8 in) mold is filled with several thin layers of cheese and drained for approximately 18 hours. The cheese is then taken out of the molds, salted, inoculated with cheese mould (Penicillium candidum, Penicillium camemberti and/or Brevibacterium linens) and aged in a cellar for at least four weeks.
If left to mature for longer, typically several months to a year, the cheese becomes stronger in flavour, the pâte drier and darker, and the rind also darker and crumbly, and is called Brie Noir (Fr: Black Brie) Around the Île-de-France, where brie is made, the people enjoy soaking this in their Café au lait and eating it for breakfast.
The region in France that gave its name to this cheese (Brie) is, in the French language, feminine: La Brie, but French products take the gender of their general category; in this case Cheese (Le fromage) is masculine, and so the cheese is also masculine, Le Brie.
According to the legends, during the 8th century, Charlemagne had his first taste of Brie cheese, and immediately fell in love with it.
Brie is usually purchased either in a full wheel or as a wheel segment. Further sub-division in most homes is subject to social conventions that have arisen to ensure that each person partaking in the cheese receives a roughly equal amount of skin. Slices are taken along the radius of the cheese rather than across the point. Removing the more desirable tip from a wedge of brie is known as "pointing the Brie" and is regarded as a faux pas.
Comparison to Camembert
Camembert is a similar soft cheese, also made from cow milk. However, there are differences beyond the simple geographical fact that Brie originates from the Champagne and Camembert from Normandy. Brie is produced in large wheels and thus ripens differently: when sold it typically has been cut from a wheel, and therefore its side is not covered by the rind; Camembert, meanwhile, is ripened as a small round cheese and sold as such, so it is fully covered by rind. This changes the ratio between the rind and the inner part of the cheese. Furthermore, Brie contains more fat than Camembert.