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Cheese of the Month - December 2016

 

Both bold, mild flavors make Brie suitable for all occasions

Editor’s note: “Cheese of the Month” is Cheese Market News’ exclusive profile series exploring various cheese types. Each month, CMN highlights a different cheese in this feature, giving our readers a comprehensive look at production, marketing, sales and in-depth aspects of each profiled cheese type. Please read on to learn about this month’s featured cheese: Brie.

By Stephanie Awe

MADISON, Wis. — Brie, a soft-ripened cheese, is believed to have originated in Meaux — a village in north-central France, says David McCoy, managing director, Dairy Insights LLC, Muskego, Wisconsin.

In the United States, Brie is made similarly to Camembert, another soft-ripened cheese. However, Brie is typically larger in size, lower in moisture and higher in fat content. Because of the lower moisture, Brie is slightly firmer than Camembert when young in age, McCoy says.

While they do not have unique standards of identity in the United States, Brie and Camembert are covered by Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations under §133.182: Soft ripened cheeses. According to the regulation, these cheeses may not contain less than 50 percent milkfat.

Brie and Camembert use Penicillium camemberti, Penicillium conidium and Penicillium caseicolum as characterizing ripening cultures, McCoy adds. These molds form a white, leathery mycelium that covers the outside of the cheeses. Since the mold grows only on the outside of the cheese, it may be added with a lactic culture or applied to the outside of the cheese just before ripening, according to McCoy.

“(The molds’) enzymes permeate into the cheese, allowing ripening from the outside in — which means that the area just below the rind may have more flavor and be softer than the center in a cheese that is not fully ripened,” McCoy says.

Traditionally, raw milk was used in the making of Brie because the cheese was consumed while it was relatively fresh. However, pasteurized milk always is used in the United States today because the Brie cannot be held for the 60 days FDA requires for unpasteurized cheeses, McCoy says.

When making the cheese, milk may be set with a mixture of mesophilic and thermophilic cultures and coagulant. The curd, which is fragile, then is cut into large cubes and carefully ladled into forms, McCoy says. Next, the curd drains for 15 to 20 hours, during which the cultures reduce the pH of the cheeses.

After draining, the cheese is lightly salted in brine or dry salted before it is ripened for about one week at 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the cheese typically is packaged for sale and moved to refrigerated storage, McCoy adds.

At Old Europe Cheese Inc., Benton Harbor, Michigan, each lot of Brie is graded before packaging to ensure the cheese is at its optimum, according to Michael Balane, national sales manager, Old Europe.

In addition, the company utilizes modern technology but follows traditional practices when making Brie, Balane says. This involves self-incubating cultures, as well as hand-cutting, hand-forming and hand-turning the cheese.

“If you modernize it too much, (the cheese) loses its flavor,” Balane says.

• Applications and trends

In France, Brie is considered a breakfast cheese, served with a croissant or fresh bread, according to McCoy. In the United States, it has a myriad of applications.

For example, it commonly is used as a dessert or party cheese, McCoy says.

“It is a great conversation starter… ‘Do you eat the rind?’ ‘What is that?,’” he says.

Zoe Brickley, director of sales and marketing at Jasper Hill Farm, Greensboro Bend, Vermont, says a classic use for Brie is spreading it on a baguette with arugula and ham. She adds there has been growing interest in pairing the cheese with wine and beer to highlight the cheese’s taste and aroma without embellishment.

Jasper Hill offers a variety of Brie-style cheeses that range from mild and versatile to bold and flavorful, serving best as either an ingredient or as a standalone piece.

One of the company’s Brie-style bloomy rind cheeses is its Moses Sleeper — named after a Revolutionary War scout. It is the company’s most classic and straightforward approach to its Brie-style cheeses, so it does well in foodservice, Brickley says.

The company also offers its Weybridge, an organic, lactic-set and hand-ladled Brie style that has a chalky texture like fresh chevre, Brickley says. The cheese’s 4-ounce button format makes it a great grab-n-go choice for retail shops that do not have a service counter, she adds.

Another variety, Harbison, is a more flavorful Brie style the company offers, Brickley says. Wrapped with a strip of spruce bark harvested from trees in the area, the cheese has a “woodsy” aroma. The spruce wrapping technique is inspired by Jura Mountain traditions like Vacherin Mont d’Or or Petit Sapin, Brickley says.

Because of its flavor, Brickley says the company’s Harbison often is used as a standalone cheese at restaurants.

Brickley adds that Jasper Hill’s Brie-style varieties are designed to be more volatile and constantly developing. Therefore, timing ripening with shipping so that the cheeses arrive on counters just before peak ripeness can be tricky.

“The tradeoff is you get more complexity of aroma,” she says.

Alouette Cheese USA LLC, New Holland, Pennsylvania, offers its double crème Brie in addition to its crème de Brie. The crème de Brie is spreadable and available in several flavors including Original, Garlic & Herbs and Smoky Bourbon, as well as Black Truffle for the holidays, according to Jeff Magnuson, associate brand manager, Alouette, who oversees the company’s domestic cheese.

He adds that Alouette’s Brie is mild and creamy.

“One of the great characteristics of Brie is its versatility,” he says. “Pairing Brie with fruits, chutneys, nuts, honey, etc. all are easy and delicious options.”

Old Europe also offers a number of Brie varieties.

Along with its triple crème, double crème and single crème Brie varieties, Old Europe offers a triple crème Brie layered with herbs, a double crème Brie with herbs and a double crème Brie with peppercorns, Balane says.

The company also introduced baked Brie about four years ago, Balane says. The cheese consists of Brie with brioche pastry dough wrapped around the cheese before it is baked, and it is available in Plain; Cranberries, Apricots & Almonds; Apple & Cinnamon; Blueberries & Vanilla; and more.

Balane adds that he has noticed Brie being used in many melting applications, such as soups and sauces.

“Plus, if one has not enjoyed a baguette with roasted turkey, cranberry chutney and Brie melted over the top, you are missing one of life’s simple pleasures,” he says.

• Retail sales

In the United States, Brie volume sales increased 0.6 percent in retail within the latest 52 weeks ending Oct. 30, 2016 (fixed weight only, total U.S. multi-outlet and convenience stores), according to Information Resources Inc. (IRI) data courtesy of Dairy Management Inc. Its retail sales appear to be on a steady rise, with a 12.6-percent increase over the last five years.

Brie exhibited a strong seasonal sales increase during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in the latest 52 weeks ending Oct. 30, 2016, according to the data. This spike coincided with price reductions.

Unflavored Brie accounted for the vast majority of Brie retail sales in the 52 weeks ending Oct. 30, 2016, according to the IRI data. Among the top flavored varieties by volume, cranberry and cranberry combinations are growing, IRI says.

The share of Brie private label to national brands is low at 8.5 percent, compared to natural cheese with about a 46-percent private label share. However, Brie private label share has grown 1.5 percentage points from 7 percent in 2012, whereas natural cheese declined by 1 point, according to the data.

• Innovations and marketing tactics

While many Brie varieties are made from cow’s milk, Brie also can be made from goat’s and sheep’s milk, according to the Code of Federal Regulations.

Montchevre, Rolling Hills Estates, California, is one company that offers a goat’s milk Brie called Cabrie, available nationwide in foodservice and retail.

“Our goat milk Brie is very mild in flavor, making it the perfect cheese for someone who might be a more timid goat cheese consumer,” says Melanie Considine, marketing manager, Montchevre, adding that it offers a “discrete goat milk tang and fruity notes” as well as health benefits that cow’s milk may not necessarily offer.

As Cabrie ages from outside in, it develops stronger earthy accents and becomes creamier, Considine adds.

In addition, the company recently introduced new packaging to reflect Cabrie’s approachability, according to Considine.

“Being that our Brie is very mild and can be used as a diverse ingredient, we wanted to make sure that our label was warm and welcoming,” she says.

Old Europe Cheese also is working on a new Brie flavor for 2017, although the flavor has not yet been decided, Balane says.

The company has been experimenting with several options, including chipotle and Asian herb, building on spice herb trends that the American palate is seeking, Balane says. The flavor would be either layered in the center of the Brie or put directly into the vat during production.

Alouette, in addition to offering domestic Brie under its own brand name, recently assumed responsibility for importing Brie varieties and other specialties from France, which had previously been handled by another importer, says Sebastien Lehembre, senior brand manager, Alouette, who oversees the company’s imported cheese. Brie imports include brands such as Ile de France and Le Rustique, he says.

The decision to take on imports was a strategic one, allowing for growth in brand recognition as well as full quality control of the products, Lehembre says.

Lehembre adds that Brie is very competitive. Brie sales — while little distinction between domestic and imported from a consumer standpoint — are growing, he says, and it appears consumers are eager to try it; this growth also is seen by Magnuson, who oversees the company’s domestic cheese.

“We certainly have seen a growing demand in the United States for soft-ripened cheeses,” Magnuson says. “More and more American consumers are becoming familiar with these specialty cheeses … We are working to help educate consumers about Brie in hopes that they will give the cheese a try so they can see how delicious and versatile our Brie really is.”

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