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I'm happiest when the food I make becomes a backdrop to a lively conversation. When I'm not cooking, I'm traveling or dreaming about travel. Come sit with me, and enjoy! Read more here.

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« semolina cookies: the perfect semi-sweet afternoon treat | Main | fried chicken livers offer new taste in fine dining but prejudice lingers »
Sunday
Mar092008

brillat savarin brings big flavor – and heart to ‘stinky cheese night’


About once a month, a group of our friends gather for what’s become known as ‘stinky cheese night.’ We pick a house and a weeknight slot, and then everyone brings cheese, wine, and whatever else we feel like sharing that's simple and low-key.

The ritual is great for a couple of reasons: We get to see our friends without having the stress of cooking, hosting, or even cleaning for that matter (my husband and I just shove the mail off our dining room table to make room for plates). And it fits nicely with one of my favorite pastimes – fondling, sniffing, and lingering over the three large cheese counters at our grocery store.

I love all kinds of cheeses, but my cheese shopping has formed a bit of a pattern – I stroll slowly by the American and European firm cheeses filling the first counter, sniff and paw at a few of the Italian cheeses at the second counter, and then arrive in my Shangri-La: the French counter where an array of natural-rind cheeses awaits my eager nose.

Recently, while lingering over an orchestra of fleshy little rinds of all shapes and sizes with my husband, I spotted a wedge that I hadn’t seen before. I picked it up and inhaled deeply through the plastic wrap like a hound meeting a new dog. “What’s your name?” I wondered. It was small and soft with a pungent smell and a beautiful grey-white natural rind.

I turned it over to read the label. “Brillat Savarin,” I said, mistakenly pronouncing the hard L. Paul, my self-proclaimed Francophile husband, corrected my pronunciation (BREE-yah Sava-RANH) and added, “He was a famous French food writer.”

A food writer with his own cheese? In a flash, the tender morsel was in my basket.

When we got home, I placed the wedge on a small plate and within minutes, this triple cream, 75 percent fat cheese turned to ooze. I ditched the crackers I was going to eat it with and, like a child with a melting ice cream cone, started scooping and scraping it with my fingers to keep it from dripping over the plate.

The taste and texture was unlike any other natural-rind soft cheese I had ever tasted: unbelievably creamy with an earthy but clean flavor up front; a metallic high note in the middle; and jolt of pepper going down.

I searched the Internet and found out that Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was the author of “The Physiology of Taste,” which was translated by one of my favorite food writers, M.F.K. Fisher and is the source of many well-known quotes including “tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” The cheese, which is neither pressed nor cooked, was created in honor of him sometime around 1930 by Henri Androuët, the father of the famous cheese maker Pierre Androuët in the Normandy region.

When I offered it up at our recent stinky cheese night, the little lump of ooze seemed to pale in comparison to the dizzying array of cheese wedges brought by our friends, but when I told the story of Brillat Savarin – the lawyer turned food writer, everyone was intrigued and quickly snatched a piece.


The idea of a cheese named after a famous food writer prompted us to start inventing personalities for the all cheeses at the table. There was the savvy, French-speaking lady’s man; the chipper, clean-shaven American go-getter (“What’s with the attitude from the French?”), and the somewhat frumpy, sour, old maid who really burned quite hot on the inside. Hey, cheese has character. You might as well go with it.

I decided that if Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin could speak for his cheese that night, he would no doubt have exuded a voice of dignity – perhaps with a hint of mischief and sensuality. I picture him wearing a bow tie and neatly pressed suit expounding on the virtues of food and love, and perhaps gracing us with one of his most famous quotes about cheese: “A dessert with no cheese is like a beauty without any heart.”

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Reader Comments (10)

Wow, you captured the beauty and yumminess of stinky cheese night. I will miss the ritual munching and the wine. You are such a fab foodie photog!

March 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

this is my favorite cheese, and stinky cheese night is such a fabulous idea!

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSarah McColl

Not only can you eat it like ice cream...it tastes like ice cream butter cheese. Uniquely rich.

March 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMgM

Jessica: Thanks! I'm so glad you think so, since you were there! Miss you already.

Sarah and mgm: Thanks for your comments. It's nice to know there's a brillat savarin fan base out there!

March 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

I think I saw your beautiful photo on tastespotting a couple of weeks ago; such a great photo it is easy to remember --had my mouth watering then, and now.

Love the idea of having a wine and cheese night with friends each month. So simple and delicious, a great way to gather.

Thanks for your great ideas and photo!

March 28, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElana's Pantry

Thanks, Elana!

March 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

I love this idea of a stinky cheese night! I will have to do something like that. These Brillat looks brilliant! (Okay, that was silly.)

You have no idea how much I enjoyed that post on Kyrgystan. I wish I could go there.

March 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJeni

Thanks, Jeni! I'm so glad you liked the Kyrgyzstan piece! I hope I can go back one of these days...

March 29, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

Houses and cars are not cheap and not everyone is able to buy it. But, credit loans are invented to help people in such kind of situations.

April 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterISABELMcdaniel34

Actually, what Brillat-Savarin says is that a dinner that ends without cheese is like woman with one eye.

February 3, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Cohen

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