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To Brie or Not to Brie

No question about it: Chef Bill loves Brie!

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Not to offend (not truedon’t careI’m a chef) don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be mean … but I’ve never met anyone named Brie who was even one iota as wonderful as the real Brie.

For those of y’all out of the loop, Brie is not just another kind of cheese. Brie is considered by many to be “cheese royalty” and it’s not primogeniture, political intrigue or happy accident. Rather, Brie has earned an elevated status through its breathtakingly delectable, buttery flavor and its luscious, creamy, incomparable texture.

I admit that, at times, I’ve considered Brie my favorite of all cheeses, and that’s saying a lot, because cheese is in my top three favorite food groups. Let’s keep that between us, shall we? I don’t want to crush the feelings of meat and seafood.

While others shout allegiance to veganism, pescatarianism, vegetarianism or whichever fad diet they feel is best for the human race, I will stand firmly by my comrades in the cheese community. In fact, I once wrote an entire column on my love affair with goat cheese, and it’s finally time to shine the spotlight on my beloved Brie.

Brie, like many remarkable French cheeses (and Champagne, for that matter), is named for the place where the cheese originated. France’s Brie region is in the northern, middle area of the country, now called Île de France. Paris is also in the Île de France region. That’s right: if the Parisians embrace something, all of France follows, and then the rest of Europe and then the Americas. “Gosh, honey, if them Frenchies love it, then it must be good!”

I’m ashamed to admit it, but I can’t recall my first delightful encounter with this scrumptious, irresistible cheese. It was probably in the ’70s, the era when gourmet products from other lands began to infiltrate mainstream culinary trends in these United States. I do, however, remember the first time I catered a party with a wheel of Brie. We took the whole wheel and trimmed off the top rind, then sprinkled brown sugar, toasted walnuts, dried cherries over the exposed inside. Next, we wrapped the entire wheel in puff pastry and baked it until it was a golden brown. The result was the richest, most buttery, nuttiest concoction I’d ever experienced. True royalty, if I ever saw it.

These days, I often use Brie in less lofty presentations. While developing new menu items for my restaurant the other day, I put together a simple sandwich of thinly sliced Black Forest ham and Brie, which I gently warmed in the broiler until the cheese slightly browned and was drippy soft. I then put the ham and cheese on a warm, crispy baguette over locally grown, super-fresh baby spinach. Next, a three-mustard vinaigrette and roasted piquillo peppers were added for a bit of acidity. The result? Well, my restaurant manager said she loved the way the melty Brie made her mouth happy. Here’s the vinaigrette for you to try.

 

Chef Bill’s Three-Mustard Vinaigrette

Ingredients

• 1 shallot, minced

• 1 garlic clove, minced

• 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

• 1 Tbsp. Creole mustard

• 1 tsp. brown mustard

• 3 Tbsp. balsamic Vinaigar

• 1 tsp. lemon juice

• 2 Tbsp. honey

• 4 oz. canola oil

• 2 oz. olive oil

• Salt & pepper to taste

 

Directions

1. Whisk the mustards with garlic, shallots, vinegar, lemon juice and honey. Emulsify in oils, season with S&P.

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Email Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Fernandina’s Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at cooking@folioweekly.com, for inspiration and to get Cheffed-Up!

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