By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook

One of the most popular cheeses in our store is Fromage D’Affinois Double Crème (60% butterfat) cheese. Of all the soft-ripening cheeses, it is one of the most consistent in quality, providing a good shelf life without being stabilized like market Brie and Camembert. So what more could you ask for? How about a triple crème (75% butterfat) version?

I just received my first delivery of Triple Crème D’Affinois. It looks just like the double crème version, only a little thicker, with the same snow-like rind surrounding it and a luscious creamy inside. My first shipment is still on the young side so I will need to do a little more in-house ripening.

With the addition of this new triple crème I was inspired to review the soft-ripening family of cheeses. The soft-ripening variety is one of the most popular of all cheese families, and probably the most misunderstood. Often, when describing a certain cheese to a customer as “soft-ripening,” many nod their head in polite agreement but seem to have no idea of what I am talking about. This is why those of us in the cheese business will most often define a soft-ripening cheese as “Brie-like.”  Most people can readily identify with it in those terms.

This type of young cheese starts with an introduction of Penicillium Candidum (or Camemberti), which is sprayed on the outside of the cheese to produce a white mold, often referred to as the “bloomy rind.”  A young cheese might look like it was just lightly snowed upon. This is done as soon as the cheese is firm enough to keep its shape. At this stage the cheese is somewhat hard and has a chalky texture.

The center of the cheese is referred to as the core. As the snow-like mold does its work, the cheese will begin to ripen from the outside in. The ripened part will soften and change to a supple, creamy texture that can be described as having a delicate “earthy” flavor, with a faint hint of mushrooms. If the cheese were to be cut in half, you would see three layers:  a hard, chalky-white center covered by a softer, somewhat thick honey-like top and a bottom layer. When the cheese core fully disappears, the cheese is considered fully ripe.

Much of this action takes place within the first thirty to forty days in the life of a soft-ripening cheese. At this point, the cheese is now ready for shipping. Any soft-ripening cheeses destined to be shipped to the United States must be made from pasteurized milk, according to FDA’s regulations.

When these young cheeses make their way to food stores, they have a short shelf-life of three to four weeks. If left to ripen past that time, unwelcome changes start to take place. The white snowy mold will begin to turn a reddish-brown color and ammonia, a by-product of bacteria growth, will develop. A cheese in this condition will actually smell of ammonia, often referred to as “ammoniated.” At this point, the cheese has become too strong and offensive to eat.

Unfortunately, proper ripening is only half the issue. Moisture loss can be even more important. A cheese not kept under proper conditions, regardless of its age, can become dry and hard, losing all the creaminess you would expect from a soft-ripening cheese. This moisture loss is dependent upon maintaining proper humidity levels during refrigeration and, most importantly, proper wrapping.

You also need to consider the thickness of the cheese. Brie-like cheeses with a thickness of an inch or less should be fully ripe when eaten. However, you might find a soft-ripening cheese of about two to three inches thickness, like Humboldt Fog, too overripe on the outside if you waited for the inside to be fully ripe. You would eat this kind of thick soft-ripening cheese cheese somewhere in-between young all-core and fully ripe.

One issue to bring to your attention is the matter of Brie and Camembert. Many years ago – fifteen years plus, approximately – cheeses were over-stabilized to give certain markets a longer shelf life. You might have noticed that those cheeses never really matured to a soft and runny point? Once upon a time, the definition of Brie was a soft creamy cheese that, when ripe, runs like honey. Thus, I stay away from those types of cheeses. I would also like to clarify that Brie and Camembert are very much the same cheese, both sharing the same recipe. The only true differences between the two are the location they are made from and the size of the cheese. A Camembert is usually eight ounces, while Brie will vary from eight ounces up to six pounds.  When buying these cheeses disregard the name; think only of the condition.

To review, when purchasing a great soft-ripening cheese you need to be aware of how ripe the cheese is, what the moisture loss has been and what the current temperature of the cheese is. If you can, try before you buy.

Triple Crème Fromage D’Affinois anyone? You must try it on a pear for a great dessert.

Soft-Ripening Cheeses and the New D’Affinois Triple Crème
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