Epoisses Cheese. Époisses de Bourgogne is a legally-demarcated cheese made in the village Époisses, in the département of Côte-d’Or, about halfway between Dijon and Auxerre in Burgundy, France. The cheese is manufactured using agricultural processes and resources traditionally found in that region.
Époisses (pronounced [epwas]) is a pungent soft-paste cows-milk cheese which is smear-ripened, ‘washed rind’, Epoisses Cheese is circular at around either 10 cm or 18 cm in diameter, with a distinctive soft red-orange color. It is made either from raw or pasteurized milk. It is sold in a circular wooden box, and in restaurants, is sometimes served with a spoon due to its extremely soft texture. The cheese is often paired with Trappist beer or even Sauternes rather than a red wine.
At the start of the sixteenth century, the village was home to a community of Cistercians at L’Abbaye de Citeaux. According to legend, they began production of the cheese. Two hundred years later, when the community left, local farmers inherited the recipe, which developed over the next century. It was probably farmers’ wives who improved the production methods which have been passed down through the generations. Napoleon was a particular fan of the cheese, and the famous epicure Brillat-Savarin himself classed it as the “king of all cheeses”.
At the start of the 20th century over 300 farms manufactured the cheese, but production had all but died out by the end of WW2. This resulted from the loss of a significant portion of the male population. Women were left to work the fields, which led to the neglect of the local dairy businesses and cheese-making. In 1956 a pair of small farmers, Robert and Simone Berthaut, decided to re-launch the production of Époisses. They mobilised the traditional skills of those who still knew how to make the cheese. Berthaut Époisses increasingly gained favour among its devotees and became a spectacular success. The business is now carried on by their son, Jean Berthaut. Fromagerie Berthaut is currently responsible for the manufacture of all fermier Époisses, although several fromageries now manufacture the cheese.