The King of Cheeses: Époisses

Époisses. It’s gooey, it’s runny, and it really stinks (in the best possible way).

Some say that the smell of époisses is so strong that it has at times been banned on public transportation in France. According to Brillat-Savarin, the world-famous gastronome, époisses is the king of all cheeses. There are many who share his opinion.

It’s pronounced like “APE – WASP” but the “P” is silent. “APE-WAHSS.”

Époisses was first invented in Burgundy, France by the monks of Cîteaux in the early 1500s. It remained a strictly local delicacy for some time. Thanks to the efforts of Robert Berthaut and his wife, époisses made an impressive resurgence in the 1950s. Now it is exported around the world.

Époisses is distinguished by its orange coloring. Made from cow’s milk, it is a washed, bloomy rind cheese with a very soft interior. It comes packaged in small, circular wooden boxes. The rind is washed with marc de bourgogne, a pomace brandy similar to Italian grappa. Pomace is simply the pressed grape skins leftover from winemaking. They can also serve as distillate for making brandy, albeit coarser and less refined. The cheese rind is washed 3 times per week over a period of 6 weeks. Époisses takes on its color and bloomy appearance through this process.

Once you overcome the earthy pungency of its rind, époisses does have a rich, creamy mouthfeel – and a slight sweetness. The cheese can become so runny at room temperature that it helps to have a spoon handy.

Strong cheeses like époisses can be tricky to pair with wine. Plus, gooey textured cheeses don’t play nice with tannic red wines. Strong lactic notes will cause the wine to taste extremely bitter. For the most successful pairing, follow the local tradition: try époisses with some marc de bourgogne. The fieriness and potency of the brandy will tame the strength of the cheese. If you prefer a lower-octane option, try époisses with a crémant du Jura: a cheaper sparkling alternative to champagne that has plenty of character and depth. The bubbles will help to cleanse your palate from the sticky fat and protein of the cheese. A truly great pairing for époisses is Trappist beer – a strong ale with plenty of character, malty richness, and effervescence to boot! Beer can often succeed where wine fails when matching to a wide variety of cheeses.

You should be able to find époisses at your local cheese purveyor if she or he keeps a good selection. Most Whole Foods locations also carry “the king of cheeses.” If you can handle the stink and crave even more, go for a Munster from Alsace or a Pont l’Evêque from Normandy…. For something a bit milder but similar, try out Taleggio from Italy.

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