The importance of cheese in history cannot be overstated. In ancient Rome, homes had a separate cheese-making kitchen and an area set aside for cheese to mature. Cheese was a staple food of Roman legions wherever they went. The art of cheese-making became the domain of monks in the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, cheese fell out of favor and it wasn't until the 19th century that it regained popularity. Since then, cheese in general and Brie in particular have steadily grown in popularity.
The earliest form of Brie was purportedly created by accident in the Middle East. The story goes that a nomad filled his saddlebag with milk before embarking on a long horseback journey. His animal carcass saddlebag was lined with rennet (an enzyme also called rennin or chymosin) and the combination with the milk created a watery liquid (whey) and solid, white lumps (curds) that was an ancestor, perhaps, of the first Brie.
What is more certain is that Brie de Meaux, one of two types of Brie cheese certified by the French government, was manufactured in the province of Brie outside Paris, starting around 770. The process combined whole or skimmed cow's milk and rennet. This mixture was heated, placed in molds and drained, then salted, inoculated with cheese mold, and aged for about four weeks. Brie texture is like butter and there is a hint of fruit in the taste.
Brie de Melun
The second type of Brie cheese certified by the French government is Brie de Melun, called the "ancestor of all Bries." Brie de Melun is described as stronger and saltier that Brie de Meaux, and comes from the same province.
The Emperor Charlemagne (768 to 814) reportedly acquired a taste for Brie cheese. According to legend, in the course of a journey, Charlemagne stopped at the residence of a bishop, who offered him a meal of Brie. When Charlemagne cut away the skin of the cheese, the story goes, the bishop interceded, telling him that he was setting aside the best part. After trying the Brie, skin and all, Charlemagne apparently ordered that large quantities of Brie should be shipped to him annually. No one can be certain whether that really happened, but it certainly adds interest to the history of Brie.
At the Congress of Vienna in 1814 to 1815, high-level representatives of all the countries of Europe meeting there elected Brie "the king of cheeses," a title that had once been just the reverse, "the cheese of kings." The latter term had been in use before the French Revolution, with reference to members of royalty like King Henri IV (1553 to 1610), who was said to be especially fond of Brie.
Today, Brie is manufactured around the world, using different types of milk, and in various varieties, some with herbs. Gourmands recommend serving Brie with French champagne or red wine as the perfect complements.
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