August 27th, 2011

Keith’s anti-firebagger rant includes an obligatory reference (my italics):

“…..  the brie cheese-eating, Ph.D.-holding, Cornel West-worshiping, shrill blog-writing and sanctimony-cultivating segments of the Democratic Party. ”

It’s an odd meme. When the EU harmonised rules of origin on food in 1992, it extended the Appellation Contrôlée system originally designed for French wine to the myriad varieties of cheese, sausage, and so on. Some cheeses like Roquefort and Stilton had stayed closely linked to specific places, and comfortably secured their PDO appellations, while others like Cheddar have spread all over the world and lost out as generics. Database here. Camembert and Brie were hard cases. Camembert made the cut to “PDO” status, and you can’t make it now outside Normandy, but Brie and Emmenthal did not. So anybody can make a wheel of soft cheese and call it Brie.

The popular association of Brie with snobbery is most peculiar. Brie and Cheddar are essentially undistinguished middle-class mass-market cheeses. The equivalent in cars would be a Ford Escort in Britain or Toyota Camry in the USA.

A real cheese snob will of course not seek out not just any cheddar, but English “West Country farmhouse cheddar” (PDO) and “Brie de Meaux” (PDO),  to go with the sun-dried tomatoes  and Arbequina olive-oil. The local recommendation of champagne (PDO) to drink with Brie makes no sense to me. A nice Beaujolais-Villages from Chiroubles or Saint-Amour, perhaps?

The snag for Beltway cocktail party-givers is that Brie de Meaux is a raw milk cheese, and more or less illegal in the USA.  Smuggling it in and taking your chance on the staphylocci staphylococci (grovel to commenter ShadowFox) are, I would have thought, risks for Real Men. A French Chuck Norris would be defending his God-given right to eat unpasteurised cheese from the Eurocops, barricaded in his farmhouse with six cows and a shotgun.

The minimum fat content of Brie de Meaux and Camembert is 45%, as bad for your heart as a Real Man’s double cheeseburger and fries.

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10 Responses to “Brie snobs”

  1. Artor says:

    It seems really unlikely that you could get contaminated cheese, even from raw milk. If something other than your selected culture gets in it, you won’t have the cheese you’re looking for. More likely you’d get some spectacularly colored, revoltingly smelly, seething goo instead of cheese. That’s kind of the whole point of culturing cheese; so you can keep your milk products around longer than you can keep raw milk.

  2. Mark Kleiman says:

    Artor, “revoltingly smelly seething goo” sounds a lot like brie to me.

    James, of course brie isn’t real gourmet cheese, any more than Pouilly-Fissé is real oenophile wine. The “brie-eating” sneer was directed at snobs: people who imagined themselves as sophisticates because they ate and drank things that were “caviare to the vulgar”: at parveneux and arrivistes. Ammoniated cheese is very much an acquired taste: perhaps one better not acquired.

    That said, I’d rather direct my political rage at what people believe and do rather than who they are. Even the snobby, pretentious brie-eaters played their role in the food revolution that has been one of the great aesthetic gains of the last generation. And their genuine, if at times misguided, concern about the lower half of the income distribution and the fate of the planet stacks up pretty well against the “real men” who thought that Wonder Bread was bread, American cheese was cheese, and Ronald Reagan was a great President.

    Those of us terrified by the prospect of a Rick Perry Presidency might reasonably consider calling a truce in the intra-progressive civil war until the external enemy has been defeated. Paul Krugman sometimes annoys me by gratuitously slamming the President – though it would be absurd to liken him to the real Firebaggers – but he’s on the right side of the Great Divide.

  3. Maynard Handley says:

    “The minimum fat content of Brie de Meaux and Camembert is 45%, as bad for your heart as a Real Man’s double cheeseburger and fries.”

    For heaven’s sake, James, why do we have to keep going through this crap? The evidence that fat is bad for the heart is so weak as to be none-existent.
    I’m not making this up: here are two simple discussions of the issue

    It’s a bit rich to post about stereotypes and who wrong they are — and they commit the exact same fallacy.
    Especially since, to the extent that there ever was any science in the linking of fat with heart disease, it was based on poor proxies and bad physiology — exact what you were complaining about in your medical post a few days ago.

  4. Maynard: Thanks for the links. I was as you say recycling the CW here – the current science-based CW of the medical profession, not street stereotypes. But if Cochrane say the old science doesn’t stand up, you have to listen.

    My comparison of Brie to cheeseburgers still holds up for fat if fat is irrelevant. But the cheeseburger has lots of carbs in the bun, fries and ketchup or mayo, so it’s probably worse for you on any metric.

    I eat my cheese on rye Finncrisps and recommend the match.

  5. James Wimberley says:

    PS: Relevant Cochrane reviews here and here [links corrected]. Both appear inconclusive rather than negative about the bad-cholesterol, cut-your-fat-intake CW.

  6. Maynard Handley says:


    (a) Your two links are identical.

    (b) The inconclusivety applies to ADVICE about diet, rather than diet itself. Money quote:
    “Dietary ADVICE appears to be effective in bringing about modest beneficial changes in diet and cardiovascular risk factors over approximately 10 months but longer term effects are not known.”

  7. Doug Moffat says:

    One of my favorite Doonesbury cartoons from the 70′s has a doctor at the Duke’s Caribbean medical school doing an experiment where he transplants the heart of a Liberal into the body of a Republican in an effort to create a compassionate conservative.

    Duke is skeptical and asks what happens if you get the reverse I.e. “a bigot who like Brie”.

    The doctor says that he would pull the plug.

  8. ShadowFox says:

    @Keith–that’s “brie”, not “brie cheese”
    @James–that’s “staphylococci”, not “staphylocci”
    @Mark–that’s “Pouilly-Fuissé”, not “Pouilly-Fissé”

    What kind of NIMBY-liberals are you, guys, that you can’t keep these things straight?? Lots of other questionable calls here too–brie is associated with liberals, not snobs per se. And no self-respecting liberal would ever refer to a proper cheese as “cheese”, but only by its proper denomination. Champagne is not associated with liberals but white wine is. Real snobs, of course, would drink red wine, not white, Scotch and Cognac, not Single-Malt/Small-Batch Bourbon or Armagnac or denatured Absinthe, which are the hard liquors of choice for liberals. Liberals are supposed to drive Volvos, not Toyotas–and they would never be seen in a Ford (even though Ford owns a major chunk of Volvo).

    Can’t you keep track of proper stereotypes? What kind of world would we live in if we could not fit everyone into a tightly knit stereotype? Back to school for all of you–George Lakoff is waiting…

  9. Wait…people read Cornell West?

  10. James Wimberley says:

    SahdowFox: A hit, Sir, a very palpable hit. But in my case, only by ricochet. I deny absolutely the charge of stereotyping, and by implication of eukaryotism. True liberals do not put lactobacillus into a socially constructed “good” box and bacillus anthracis into a “bad” one. They wear the tie to prove it.

    On my “staphylocci”, I’ll give the same answer as Samuel Johnson gave to a woman reader who asked him why he had defined “pastern” in his Dictionary as “the knee of a horse”: “Sheer ignorance, madam, sheer ignorance.”

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