When I was in France in August, I spent a few days in Epoisses in Burgundy. Epoisses is a little village after which one of France's great cheeses is named. I had developed an interest in this cheese and hoped to visit one or two cheese makers there. As a teenager I had spend some time in Burgundy, so I thought it would be fun to visit it again. I mainly remember it from then as hilly with winding country roads. This time it reminded me of the Midwest. I live in America now as opposed to in the Netherlands before and it has dramatically changed my referential point of view. It seems to me to be the breadbasket of France.
We stayed at a bed and breakfast on a large farm of, if I remember correctly, 1000 acres of arable land. The farm grows rapeseed, wheat and used to grow potatoes. It had at least three humongous John Deere tractors and I was very excited when the farmer showed me those beauties on our last day there. Turned out that the farm we were staying on was the farm where Robert Berthaut and his wife Simone had reinvented Epoisses in the fifties and thus saved this cheese from becoming extinct. Unfortunately we had to catch a train back to London. (The TVG is fantastic, I really recommend it for the US) There was no time for a visit to their current manufacturing facilities.
The photos here are from a visit to another Epoisses producer, Gaec des Marronniers in Origny-sur Seine, about 50 km northeast from the village of Epoisses. I had found this maker on the website of the Syndicat de Defense de l’Epoisses. Being the only farmstead producer and only producer of Epoisses from raw milk, they seemed to me the right one to visit. We showed up unannounced and after mentioning that we had come all the way from America and only had one day, they were so kind as to give us a tour right away. We were asked to put on disposable gowns, hairnets and boots before we could enter the facility. After walking through a sterilizing dip bath, we entered a very sterile environment not like any cheesemaking facility I have seen so far. The walls were white, the floors tiled, everything was spotless. Cheese was present in various stages of its process.
Being a farmstead producer they only make cheese from milk produced on their own farm. They started in 2002 and have 200 cows, Montbeliards and d’Alp Brunes. Sixty of these cows are milkers. The rest are either calves or heifers.
The evening milk is mixed with the morning milk before it is renneted. The coagulation takes place in white rectangular plastic containers of about 15 gallon. They are visible on photo four (to the right) and five (stacked in the back). After coagulation, the curd is scooped in plastic perforated forms of about 5” diameter and left to drain. After sufficient drainage the cheeses are salted and dried for (I think) 24 hours before they move into the aging room (last photo). Here they are first washed with salted water for two weeks before the washing with Marc de Bourgogne begins. Gradually the amount of Marc is increased during this stage which last for about another two weeks. By then the cheeses have developed a deep orange rind but are still very chalky and mild inside. Ready for shipment, they are wrapped in micro perforated film and packed in individual wooden boxes. On our leave we bought some cheeses and after having traveled via England all the way across the Atlantic, it had ripened nicely and developed in one of the most delightfull cheeses I have ever had.