Type: Soft Washed Rind
Milk: Raw cow's milk
Animal breed: Brune, Montbeliarde and Semmental
Size of cheese: 10cm
Location: Cote d'Or, Bourgogne
Season: Year round
Epoisses is a cheese that makes its presence known on all fronts. A vibrant orange, unmistakeably odorous, boldly flavoured cheese, once encountered it isn't quickly forgotten. All the more surprising, then, to learn that Epoisses was once a cheese on the brink of extinction.
The recipe has a long history, which like many washed rind cheeses owes its origins to the monastic community. At some point in the 14th century, Cistercian monks based in the Burgundian village of Epoisses realised that the local soil and pastures were suitable for dairy farming and developed a cheese recipe. The Cistercians shared the recipe with local farmers, and from this point onward it survived as an oral tradition passed down from generation to generation, with the first written versions only emerging several hundred years later.
Most dairy famers in this part of Burgundy would once also have grown vines, and whilst their wine had no great reputation they were famous for their marc - super strong eau-de-vies distilled from grape skins, pulp and seeds. Cheeses would be washed or even marinated in either marc or white burgundy, developing as a consequence that distinctive orange, sticky rind and a fruity, meaty pungency. Until the 1930s, there were hundreds of Epoisses producers, washing their cheeses in their own marc, with huge variation from farm to farm. But by the 1940s, post-war industrialisation and a move away from small-yield milk production meant that the recipe had all but died out.
In the 1950s a small number of producers began efforts to revive this lost cheese, following the traditional recipe which calls for a slow lactic coagulation and cheeses washed up to 3 times a week in a mixture of water and Marc de Bourgogne. Their efforts more than paid off as the ubiquity of Epoisses on cheese counters around the world attests, although such popularity brought with it increased scales of production, with most producers now finding it necessary to pasteurise their milk.
Our cheeses are made by the only remaining raw-milk producer of Epoisses, and what beauties they are. Sticky of texture and bold of taste, they remind us of peanut butter and smoky bacon, and are particularly delicious when paired with strong, dark ales.