The Epoisses cheese: Introduction
The name of the Epoisses cheese comes from that of the town where it is produced. The Epoisses cheese was imported to the court of the Count of Guitaut, one of the noblemen of the wardrobe of Louis XIV, where it was very in vogue. Later, Napoleon I also appreciated the cheese, at the same time as he grew to love the wine of Chambertin. Both the wine and the cheese, marry perferctly together.
The Epoisses cheese is in the shape of a disc with an average diameter of 10cm and a thickness of 4cm for a weight of 300g. The Epoisses cheese is matured for 2 to 3 months in a humid cellar, when the rind is washed periodically. However, when matured using marc de Bourgogne (the pomace brandy of Bourgogne) it is only matured for one month.
Exterior appearance of the Epoisses cheese: a brick-red coloured, glossy rind
Odour of the Epoisses cheese: pungent and robust
Texture of the Epoisses cheese: firm and moist
Taste of the Epoisses cheese: mild to strong, depending on age.
The rind of the Epoisses cheese is smooth, or slightly wrinkled and glossy, it is ivory orange to brick red in colour, depending on how long it has been matured. This colour which is entirely natural, is due to the pigments of the surface bacteria, the addition of colourings is prohibited. The pâte is a light beige colour towards the outside and white in the centre. The nose is strong; with an aroma of the undergrowth. In the mouth, the pâte is smooth, unctuous and velvety. It has a mild, subtil flavour with undertones of dried fruit.
The Epoisses cheese is particularly tasty:
- at the end of spring, beginning of summer (July, August) because it is made with the first batch of milk to be produced by the dairy cows after being let out onto the pasture;
- at the start of winter (November, December) when it is made with the rich and aromatic milk produced by the cows who pasture on the aftermath of the autumn vegetation.
The geographical area of designation for the Epoisses cheese covers a large part of the west of the 'Côte d'Or,' two districts of the Haute-Marne and three districts of the department of Yonne. The area corresponds to the natural fields combining the terrain of the Marne and the geological shelf of the Jura. The lower Jura constitutes the historic core (Lias) of the area of production (field of Epoisses on the 'Côte d'Or' and 'Terre Plaine' in the Yonne).
History of the Epoisses cheese
There has been a community of monks in the village of Epoisses, since the beginning of the 16th Century, from whom, thanks to word of mouth, it is thought the Epoisses cheese originated. When the community left the village around two centuries later, they left the inhabitants of the valley a valuable heritage: the recipe for the fabrication of the cheese. And it is from the small farms of the Auxois that this exceptional cheese takes its history and its development. Taking into account the old, traditional methods, the farmers of the region, gradually established a savoir-faire orginal cheese, improving the quality of the fabrication then making their product known outside of the region where it was made. This is when the cheese, although quietly and gradually,earnt its noble reputation.
A number of administrative documents from the 19th Century attest that there was a particular cheese-making industry developed in the Epoisse valley. The cheese was renamed and exported to Paris and several other departments. Numerous authors were interested in the fabrication of the cheese. Archives show that there was a unified method of fabrication, founded on the savoir-faire method of the slow curdling of the milk and the washing of the cheeses with marc de Bourgogne during the maturing process. The effective promotion of the cheeses pushed the development of their fabrication. It is estimated that there were more than 300 more farms fabricating the Epoisses cheese around 1900.
Cheese contests took place at fairs and agricultural associations in the region with great success. However due to the First World War, the male population of the Auxois was heavily reduced, leaving only the women to work the fields; which meant that there was nobody to care for the cheeses of Epoisses, or to take them to sell at the local market, therefore the fabrication of the cheeses was neglected. Here began the decline of the cheeses. After the war, the agricultural associations did not resume the cheese expositions or contests. Demanding a lot of hard work, the fabrication of the Epoisses cheese was not of interest to the new generations, as agriculture had moved on and developed. The farm made cheese began to disappear between 1954 and 1956. It was in this year that a couple of farmers decided to recommence the production of the Epoisses cheeses, by using the savoir-faire of the inhabitants of the region who who still knew how the cheese was made. Progressively, the cheese re-found its notoriety, thanks to the cheese-makers, and it succeeded in gaining official recognition in 1991 with the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée.
Today, three breeds of cow are used for the production of milk for the Epoisses cheese: the Brune, principally in the Châtillonnais, birthplace of the breed; the French Simmental, on the plateau of Langres and in the sunken valleys of the north of Auxois; and the Montbéliarde in south of Auxois and next to Dijon.
These breeds have been present in the region for centuries, and are known for their production of high quality milk. The milk producers put in place measures to reinforce the importance of the forage and the link to the terrain: - the manuring of the soil and the diversity of the natural flora of the fields; - the coarse forage used to feed the dairy cows and the importance of the area of designation; - the period that the cows are put to pasture is augmented in spring (minimum of 20 ares per milk producing cow) and represents at least half of the forage distributed until the 15th June; - In winter, the dry feed should represent at least 30% of the total feed; - Genetically modified feed is prohibited for the dairy cows.