A few weeks ago, driving from Epernay to Paris in the middle of a typhoon (well, that’s what it felt like anyway), I saw the signs for Meaux and made the impromptu decision to stop. I told myself it was for Road Safety — but as the town of Meaux is synonymous with cheese, I was gleeful to have the excuse to learn more about one of my favorites.
In the town center, I parked and popped into the local Office du Tourisme. I love these places — they’re almost always a friendly source of maps, tips, and other information. They directed me to the Fromagerie de Meaux Saint-Faron, a cheese producer on the outskirts of town.
I had visions of farmhouse cheesemaking, complete with checked cloths, wooden buckets, and straw mats, but let’s be honest — those days are long gone. The Fromagerie Saint-Faron is a medium-sized producer, adhering faithfully to French hygiene regulations, which means the ambiance is a little industrial and sterile. The self-guided tour features windows that peer onto the factory floor, and signs in French and English.
The factory produces Brie de Meaux and Brie de Melun, which are soft cheeses, made from raw cow’s milk, and originating from the general Seine-et-Marne area. They differ in subtle ways of production (which I’ll discuss below) but one of the most obvious is their particular home area. As dictated by the Appelation d’Origine Controlée, Brie de Meaux can be produced in a larger region than Brie de Melun.
At the fromagerie, the process starts when the milk arrives and is divided by region. The AOC requires Brie de Melun’s milk to be separated from the milk of the greater Brie de Meaux territory. The milk is “ripened,” or fermented, for fifteen hours; both Meaux and Melun have their own specific cultures, “part of the cheese plant’s secret recipes,” said the sign.
The ripened milk is then heated and coagulated with animal rennet. And this is where the differences begin:
Brie de Meaux coagulates for 30 minutes. The curds are then cut into cubes and scooped (along with the whey) into molds with an instrument called a “pelle à brie,” or Brie shovel. A skillful scooper is essential to achieving a fine, uniform texture.
Brie de Melun coagulates for 18 hours. The curds and whey are stirred together until smooth and homogenous, and then scooped into molds.
The cheese remains in the molds for 20 hours, which allows the whey to drain from the curds. The drained curds are then salted and sprayed with Penicillium, which forms a white bloom on the surface of the cheese. The cheeses then proceed to the cave d’affinage (cheese cellar).
In the cave (where it was too dark for photos), Brie de Meaux ages in two stages. The first stage lasts a week and ensures that the white bloom develops evenly; the young cheeses are called “blanc de sel,” and are turned twice. The second stage lasts four to seven weeks. As the cheese ripens, it’s turned twice a week — until the end, when it becomes too delicate.
Brie de Melun is also ripened in two stages, albeit more slowly. The first stage lasts two weeks; the second ripening stage occurs over five to eight weeks.
The final step of the process is perhaps the most distinctive for the two Bries.
Brie de Meaux is sold at three stages of maturity. 1) Half matured (four to five weeks); 2) Three-quarters matured (six weeks); 3) Fully matured (eight weeks). As the cheese ages, the white rind develops faint red streaks, while the interior turns increasingly creamy, thanks to a process called proteolysis.
Brie de Melun is also sold at two stages. 1) Three-quarters matured (eight weeks); 2) Fully matured (nine to ten weeks). When fully ripe, it also develops red streaks on its rind, and the cheese has a stronger flavor.
In the factory shop, I picked up a wedge of each cheese, as well as a couple of triple-cream Bries. Back in Paris, four friends and I enjoyed a decadent evening of cheese, bread, and salad. After extensive tastings, we found the Brie de Melun stronger and saltier than that of Meaux, with a crust that stung a bit on the tongue: “Ca pique,” said my friend, Alexis. The Brie de Meaux was creamy and milder, while the triple crème were almost too creamy (if such a thing is possible :)
Fromagerie de Meaux Saint-Faron (no website)
Rue Jehan de Brie / Zone Industrielle Nord
tel: 01 64 36 69 44
Independent visits €4, with dégustation