Brie cheese, an originally French cheese, is a creamy, yellow cheese encased in a soft, powdery-white edible rind. It is sold in small to large rounds and is either baked whole, served at room temperature or sliced and added to sandwiches. Its appeal is that when it's cut into, the cheese will deliciously ooze out of its casing--that is if the cheese is at the peak of ripeness.
The Look, Feel and Smell
Thankfully, Brie is one of those cheeses that provides signs it is past its prime. So don't be shy--pick it up and poke it a bit, peel back some of the wrapping to see how it looks and take a whiff--the odor is a sure sign the cheese has gone bad. Here are things to look for:
- Purchase Brie rounds that are no more than 1 inch thick. Thicker rounds will be overripe on the edges and underripe in the center.
- It should appear that the cheese is slightly bulging within the rind.
- An overripe Brie has a brownish, gummy rind.
- If you are able to purchase just a slice of Brie, look for an interior that is soft with a satiny sheen.
- The exterior should be firm, while the center should be springy but not watery. Underripe Brie will feel hard when gently pressed with your finger, while overripe Brie will feel too soft and runny to the touch.
- The cheese should have a sweet odor. Overripe Brie will smell like ammonia.
- Hard, underripe Brie will probably not ripen once you get it home, so don't take the chance.
The Best Way to Store
Once you've found a fresh wheel of Brie you want to make sure it stays that way. Here are some storage tips to enjoy the cheese to the fullest.
- Once it ripens, Brie should be refrigerated and consumed within a few days.
- Brie stops aging once it is sliced, so if it is not properly aged when you cut into it, it will not improve.
- Ripe, uncut Brie may be frozen up to 6 months.
The Best Way to Eat
Brie is known to be one of the world's great cheeses, and perhaps this is due to not only its taste but also because of its simple versatility. You can just unwrap the wheel, put it on a plate, surround it with crackers and let guests cut into it on their own. It is also delicious baked in the oven--with or without a pastry coating--and is a welcome addition to a turkey or ham sandwich on a baguette.
No matter how you plan to serve it, it's important that the Brie is brought to room temperature or warmed before eating. This allows the true flavors and richness of the cheese to shine through, in addition to bringing the cheese to its optimal level of "ooziness."
Unlike other rinds, the white moldy Brie rind is edible and is usually eaten along with the softer interior. If you do not want to eat the rind, it is easy to trim from a refrigerated Brie, or bring the cheese to room temperature, slice off the top and scoop out the soft center with a spoon. A fun fact: champagne pairs particularly well with Brie cheese.
If necessary, Camembert may be substituted for Brie in equal measures. Be aware that the Camembert will be stronger in aroma and flavor than the Brie.