Some cheeses are a total experience. Epoisses de Bourgogne is one of them. It starts with the round wooden box. Although somewhat flimsy it speaks of hidden the treasure lovingly packaged for sale. Myth or reality notwithtstanding, it sets the tone. Lifting the lid you see an orange-gold cheese, hopefully unblemished and plump with a tracery of lines across the surface and the occasional dusting of fine white fur.
The aroma hits you first. It's an earthy pungent wallop that pushes through the perforated plastic wrapping. Epoisses is a cows milk cheese, made with a slow coagulation process. Once the cheese is formed, drained and salted, it is aged on racks in a humid cellar. It is brushed with either salt water or water and marc several times a week. This hand washing helps distribute the bacteria evenly across the surface of the cheese and adds flavor. Epoisses is aged for 5-6 weeks and matures into a beautiful and intense cheese.
When you cut into a perfectly ripe Epoisses the knife just sinks through the pate. It is ivory inside the rind, resilient and slightly chewy with a soft creamy texture that melts across the palate. This is a big cheese with a strong flavor that hits you with salt and cream and earth and dust and an indescribable blend of flavors that linger long after you've swallowed the cheese. A perfectly ripe Epoisses is a beautiful thing.
Once the cheese starts its slide downhill things go south fast becoming sharp and ammoniated and singularly unpleasant. This is why a good cheesemonger is essential. A good cheesemonger is one who you have a relationship with and visit regularly. Cheese is constantly evolving and your window of opportunity is a relatively small thing. A great cheese is transcendent. It's one of life's small pleasure that's available to everyone.