Thursday, September 22, 2011

Close Encounters With Coulommiers

Certain cheeses, like certain rare albums, attract die-hard fans. You’re looking at one here. I would show you others if I weren’t just a wee bit worried about getting caught. See, the cheese pictured before you isn’t actually legal, and that’s because it’s unpasteurized. It came into this country, like so many pirated Michael Jackson cassette tapes, via a suitcase.

I’ve always wanted to try a raw-milk French Brie, which is why I biked to an undisclosed parking lot several weeks ago and did the unthinkable: I ate raw Coulommiers out of the trunk of an unmarked minivan. It’s just as nefarious as it sounds. There were knives, illicit cutting boards, cheese thugs.

I risked my life. And I’d do it again.

Coulommiers is a cow’s milk cheese from near Burgundy – an area of the world that is known for its glorious dairy. Epoisses? From Burgundy. Delice de Bourgogne? From Burgundy. Both  are sold to the U.S. as pasteurized cheeses because of our stringent raw-milk laws. They’re very good cheeses, mind you, but as a diehard cheeselover, one has to wonder: what would the raw-milk version taste like?  

This is why I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try raw Coulommiers – the real deal from France. If I’d been in Paris, I would have shmeared it on a baguette without hesitation, without looking over my shoulder, without first putting on a Lone Ranger mask. 

I wouldn’t even be telling you about this experience except that…well, I feel I owe it to you. I mean, we have come so far together.

So here is my close encounter with Coulommiers: Imagine the taste of a thousand splendid mushrooms, sautéed in butter and herbs to silky perfection. Envision the crepe-de-chine creaminess on the tongue, the pasturey aroma of wet hay. Multiply this by 10,000 flashing taste buds and you have, well, a cheese supernova.

I am here to tell you that this Coulommiers was so far from every other gummy, slightly furry, tongue-coating Brie experience I’ve ever endured, that I literally moonwalked across cobblestones and fell into a planter pot, stunned.

I am ruined, reader. If you ever go to France, order Coulommiers. Make sure to get a ripe one. If it doesn’t run down your sleeve, step away and move to the next cheese shop.

And if you ever get a phonecall in the middle of the night from someone with a husky voice who says, “Meet me in a parking lot tomorrow at 2 p.m. I have some dangerous, irresistible French cheese,” please let me know. I will go in your place. 

Note: This post is not intended to advocate cheese smuggling. Raw milk cheese is legally available for purchase in the U.S., but it must be at least 60 days old. Young cheeses, such as Brie and Coulommiers, ripen in a few short weeks so they are not available in stores as raw cheeses. It is legal to eat them, just not to buy them. 


  1. Hey, I saw this deal and thought of you ;] Figured you might be interested in it so check it out and let me know what you think


  2. Nice! Welcome to the dark side. I once had a raw milk "Chambertin" Epoisses under similar circumstances. best cheese I ever ate outside of France. - Larry K.

  3. I live in Paris, but I often overlook Coulommiers. Gonna go grab some tomorrow after your poetic description!

  4. I agree it's so ridiculous these raw milk laws! I'm originally from the Netherlands and moved to the USA in 2001. For instance Gouda cheese, the most common known cheese from the Netherlands, doesn't even taste the same here as it does back there. I would love to have the exact same taste in cheese here. People don't know what they're missing! There's sooo much more flavor in these 'illegal' cheeses! If you go check out cheese in an alley again I offer myself up as your partner in crime! ;)