The Royal History of Brie, King of Cheeses
The Royal History of Brie, King of Cheeses
Brie is one of the world's most popular and widely recognized cheeses. It is often served at parties and other gatherings and pairs perfectly with various foods and beverages. But where did this delicious cheese come from, and how did it become so popular? In this blog post, we will explore the history of Brie cheese and its origins.
WHAT IS BRIE CHEESE, AND WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Brie is a soft-ripened cheese originating in the historical region of Brie in northern France. Today, the historical region of Brie makes up parts of the modern French administrative regions of Ile-de-France, Hauts-de-France, and Grand Est. The area is located just east of Paris and is known for its lush pastureland, ideal for producing high-quality milk. Brie cheese is made from cow's milk and has a pale yellow, soft, edible rind. The cheese has a creamy texture and a mild, buttery flavor often described as "earthy" and "nutty".
THE ORIGINS OF BRIE, KING OF CHEESES
The exact origins of Brie cheese are murky, but it is believed to have been first produced during the Middle Ages by monks at the monastery of Rueil en Brie. Also unclear is when Brie first gained its nickname, Le roi des fromages, but it is no mystery why many call it the "King of Cheeses" today. Besides its bold and rich flavor, Brie has an illustrious royal history.
In 774, the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne visited the monastery of Rueil en Brie and found the cheese so delightful that he arranged regular, long-distance deliveries to his capital, Aachen, now in modern-day Germany. In 1217, King Philip II Augustus, the first man to claim the title King of France, provided 200 wheels of Brie to his courtiers as gifts for the New Year.
But, perhaps, the most illustrative example of Brie's divine power over our mortal taste buds comes from the life of the ill-fated King Louis XVI, whose reign ended abruptly during the early years of the French Revolution, possibly due to his love for a variety of the cheese, known as Brie de Meaux. Those familiar with the period's history will probably know about the Flight to Varennes, but it is quite an adventure story for the unfamiliar and worth further reading.
In a nutshell, The Flight to Varennes was an unsuccessful attempt by King Louis XVI, his wife, Queen Marie-Antoinette, and their children to escape captivity in Paris and flee beyond the French border in late June of 1791. Once absconded, they hoped to start a counter-revolution in France with help from other European monarchies, such as the Holy Roman Empire or the Kingdom of Prussia. But, as it turns out, kings, queens, princes, and princesses are not the best at keeping low profiles or forgoing the creature comforts of luxury, and their secret plan was soon foiled.
At a village along the royal escape route, a postal clerk thought he recognized a rather rotund "citizen" with a large nose who had arrived stylishly with his wife and children in some rather expensive-looking carriages. A bit skeptical but suspicious nonetheless, the postal clerk removed an assignat (the Revolution's paper money) from his pocket as the group departed, comparing its printed portrait of the king with the citizen's face. Seeing an exact match between the noses, the postal clerk knew something was not right and rushed off to alert villages farther down the road about who and what he had seen. Later that day, Louis and his family were arrested in Varennes, escorted back to Paris, and confined to house arrest in the Tuileries Palace. The only royal family member freed from this incarceration would be Louis and Marie-Antoinette's eldest child, princess Marie-Thérèse.
The Arrest of Louis XVI and his Family, Varennes, 1791 by Thomas Falcon Marshall (1818-1878), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
So, how does Brie fit into the story? According to legend, Louis XVI demanded to stop in the town where he was recognized to enjoy some wine and his favorite snack, the variety of Brie known as Brie de Meaux.
While the story does not have a happy ending, it is still fun to think that the recent history of France, and many other parts of the world by extension, could have been different if only Brie de Meaux were not so devilishly delicious.
THE STATE OF BRIE TODAY
In more modern times, the production of Brie cheese continued to grow throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, as advanced transportation and technology made it easier to produce and distribute cheese and other perishable foodstuffs. Indeed, the first imported wheels of Brie arrived in the United States in 1936, borne in the newly refrigerated holds of a luxury ocean liner. Today, the different varieties of Brie are widely available in supermarkets and specialty cheese shops worldwide.
One of the most famous varieties of Brie cheese is Brie de Meaux, mentioned above. This cheese is produced in Meaux in the historical Brie region and has a rich and complex flavor profile. Brie de Meaux is made using traditional cheese-making techniques and is aged for at least four weeks to develop its unique flavor and texture. The cheese has a creamy, buttery flavor with hints of mushroom and earthy undertones. Brie de Meaux is often served with crusty bread and a glass of red wine and is a staple in many French households.
While Brie de Meaux is perhaps the most famous variety of Brie cheese, many other types of Brie are produced worldwide. Some Brie cheeses are made using cow's milk, while others use sheep's or goat's milk. Some varieties are aged for extended periods to develop a more complex flavor, while others are sold fresh and have a milder taste.
Despite the many different types of Brie available, they all share one thing in common: a rich history and an uncompromising commitment to quality. Whether you are a cheese connoisseur or someone who enjoys a little nibble occasionally, you can't go wrong with Brie or its varieties.
Cover image of Brie de Meaux by Coyau / Wikimedia Commons