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JEFF TIEDEMAN: Brie -- the king of cheeses

Jeff Tiedeman

Are you one of those people who love cheese?

You can count me among those who say yes to that question.

I'm not exactly sure when my fondness for that dairy product became more than just a passing fancy. I suspect it was sometime around the time my dad starting bringing home big chunks of "longhorn" Colby cheese from Erickson's Meat Market, which was located on Main Street in my hometown of Crookston, right next to Cox's Bakery.

But I probably would have succumbed to this affection sooner rather than later, since many of my French ancestors came from areas in France (Franche-Comte, Normandy and Il-de-France, among others) that have been producing quality cheeses since as early as the 12th century.

No favorites

I don't play favorites when it comes to cheese, either. I'm at home with just about any variety.

I got to thinking about that recently when having a conversation with Ross Hartsbough, an El Roco trivia opponent of mine and Therese's.

Ross -- who goes by the name "Percy" when about a dozen teams square off each Saturday evening in the north-side nightclub at the corner of Gateway Drive and North Washington Street -- asked me whether I liked Brie, a soft cow's cheese named after the French region from which it originated (roughly corresponding to the modern department of Seine-et-Marne).

"Percy," a retired psychology professor at the University of Manitoba, told me that Brie was his favorite cheese (he prefers to have it baked). He said he never tasted Brie while growing up in southern Pennsylvania, but it was love at first bite when the first morsels crossed his lips.

Called the "Cheese of Kings" or "King of Cheeses," (apparently the order of the words was changed, for obvious reasons, after the French Revolution, as many French kings of all times were keen consumers), Brie was widely known in the time of Charlemagne, in the eighth century.

My first taste

I also didn't try the legendary cheese until my late-20s, at a Christmas party hosted by the late Bev Kees, who was editor at the Herald in the early 1980s. Since then, I've had it at numerous holiday get-togethers. (It has become a main staple of appetizer cheese plates, often served with fruit or light crackers.)

These days, Brie can be easily found in supermarkets around the world (in small and large wheels or triangular-shaped segments), including plain Brie, herbed varieties, double and triple Brie and versions of Brie made with other types of milk.

But there are only two authentic types of Brie, though, certified by the French government: the Brie de Meaux and the Brie de Melun.

I'm told that the difference between the two is hard to spot for nonexperts, but the Brie de Melun tends to be a bit smaller and with stronger taste because of a somewhat longer period of "affinage" (maturation).

Somehow, I don't think it would matter much to me.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com.

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