There is nothing more indulgent then a nice, soft, ripe cheese. Soft cheeses have a decadence that few hard cheeses can match. Their creaminess may make you feel like you are being really bad but in actuality soft cheeses tend to be lower in fat than hard cheese due to their high moisture content. But when I am indulging in cheese I often don't think about fat and calories.
At my cheese counter, people will often ask if a certain cheese is a "Brie cheese". We have become obsessed with Brie, but what is Brie? Brie is a region of France that lies 30 miles east of Paris where Brie cheese originated. They have been making Brie in Brie since the 8th century. Brie cheese is a soft ripened cheese which means they ripen from the outside rind into the center or paste of the cheese. When looking at a cross section of Brie you can notice the rind, under that is the creamline and then the paste in the center. You can tell how ripe a soft ripened cheese is by the size of the creamline. A soft ripened cheese can become so ripe that the interior becomes liquid. I have held whole wheels of soft ripened cheese that feel like a bag of cream.
Brie and other soft ripened cheeses have white bloomy rinds. This rind is created by Penicillium Candidum, Penicillium Camemberti, and/or Geotrichum Candidum. The rind is edible but it is a matter of personal preference if you want to eat the rind. I suggest you try the rind first then decide. Sometimes when a soft ripened cheese becomes overripe, the rind becomes bitter. But I do hate being at parties and seeing that a nice Brie has been hollowed out and the shell of a rind is left to waste.
A true Brie will be named after the town where it is made such as Brie de Meaux which has AOC designation. AOC is Appellation D'Origine Controlee which lets you know that this is the real deal. A Brie with an AOC is like a Gucci handbag and one without is a knockoff. Sometimes you can't tell the difference but its in there. The term Brie gets applied to all sorts of cheese in the United States. Many of these "Bries" are factory made, have papery rinds, and firm centers. I would rather not waste my time or money on these imposters though they tend to be less expensive.
Sometimes the rind on a soft ripened cheese is orange. This is cause by Brevibacterium Linens or Red Bacteria. This bacteria is added to the cheese much like a white mold mentioned above but the growth is encouraged by washing the wheel of cheese is a salt solution in which liquor may be added. This family of washed rind cheeses are also know as stinky cheeses. Some wonderful soft ripened washed rind cheeses are Langres Chalancey, Chaumes, and Saint Albray.
So basically a Brie is a specific type of cheese in the family of soft ripened or bloomy rinded cheeses. A Brie is always a soft ripened cheese but not every soft ripened cheese is a Brie. One cheese that I love which isn't technically a Brie is Fromage D'Affinois. This double creme cow's milk cheese has a very mild rind and an ultra creamy smooth center. For more information on soft ripened cheeses check:
Here are some cheeses that often get mistaken for Brie.
Gres Champenios is a soft ripened cow's milk cheese made in France by Fromagere de Chevillon. The green leaf on top is made of plastic but once was a real leaf used to tell how old the cheese was and where it might be in the ripening process. I find the rind on this cheese a little bitter. The paste was very smooth and creamy with notes of butter, mushroom, and a slight sour lactic flavor.
Pico is a French goat cheese that I absolutely love! This cheese is made by Picandine en Perigord and worth every penny. It has a very mild rind and a supple paste. It is definitely a goat cheese and has flavors of yeast and minerals. This cheese is hard to find so when you do, buy one (maybe even two) and savour it.
This Robiola due Latti is made by Luigi Guffanti in Italy exclusively for Whole Foods. This cheese is a blend of cow's and sheep's milk. It is very creamy and smooth with a nice mild rind and a milky sweet paste with a slight tang and mushroom flavor. This cheese did feel like a square of cream before I cut into it. I remember looking forward to coming home and eating this cheese everyday it was in my fridge.
And as always, serve your cheese at room temperature if you want to get the full flavor. What's your favorite soft ripened cheeses?