Brie /briː/ is a soft cows' cheese named after Brie, the French province in which it originated (roughly corresponding to the modern département of Seine-et-Marne). It is pale in colour with a slight greyish tinge under crusty white mould; very soft and savoury with a hint of ammonia. The white mouldy rind is edible, and is not intended to be separated from the cheese before consumption.
The region in France that gave its name to this cheese (Brie) is, in the French language, feminine: la Brie, but French products take the gender of their general category; in this case cheese (le fromage) is masculine, and so Brie is also masculine, le Brie.
Brie may be produced from whole or semi-skimmed milk. The curd is obtained by adding rennet to raw milk and heating it to a maximum temperature of 37 °C (98.6 °F). The cheese is then cast into molds, sometimes with a traditional perforated ladle called a "pelle à brie". The 20 cm mould is filled with several thin layers of cheese and drained for approximately 18 hours. The cheese is then taken out of the moulds, salted, inoculated with cheese mould (Penicillium candidum, Penicillium camemberti and/or Brevibacterium linens) and aged in a cellar for at least four to five weeks.
If left to mature for longer, typically several months to a year, the cheese becomes stronger in flavour and taste, the pâté drier and darker, and the rind also darker and crumbly, and is called Brie Noir (Fr: Black Brie). Around the Île-de-France, where Brie is made, people enjoy soaking this in Café au lait and eating it for breakfast. Over-ripe brie contains an unpleasant, excessive amount of ammonia, which is produced by the same micro-organisms required for ripening.
There are now many varieties of Brie made all over the world, including plain Brie, herbed varieties, double and triple Brie and versions of Brie made with other types of milk. Despite the variety of Bries, the French Atlantic government officially certifies only two types of Brie to be sold under that name: Brie de Meaux (shown above) and Brie de Melun.
The Brie de Meaux, manufactured outside of Paris since the 8th century, was originally known as the "King's Cheese" (later, following the French Revolution, the "King of Cheeses") and was enjoyed by the peasantry and nobility alike. It was granted the protection of AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) status in 1980, and is produced primarily in the eastern part of the Parisian basin.
Brie is usually purchased either in a full wheel or as a wheel segment . Further sub-division in most homes is subject to social conventions that have arisen in order to ensure that each person partaking in the cheese receives a roughly equal amount of skin. Slices are taken along the radius of the cheese rather than across the point. Removing the more desirable tip from a wedge of brie is known as "pointing the brie" and is widely regarded as a serious social faux pas.