Bon Fromage

Brie vs Camembert. Which is which and what pairings should you try?

There are few things as quintessentially French as a good cheese, and with good reason since the French are renowned globally for having some of the most superior cheese selections. Quality aside, there’s a culture to cheese that can’t be removed from the French experience. Moving to Nice was an incredible experience for so many reasons but I have to say the near-compulsory inclusion of a cheese course was one of my favourites, which you’ll recognise if you’ve dined at Klein JAN or JAN before.

That said, the world of French cheese is vast and sometimes daunting. How do you know which ones to choose, especially as a novice, and which pairings should you try first? As far as I’m concerned you can’t go wrong with a good Brie or Camembert, two absolute essentials, but for many a novice cheese consumer they can’t tell the difference, or even which they prefer. Let’s clear that up.

What is the difference between brie and camembert?

Brie and camembert are virtually indistinguishable to those who have yet to discover the world of French cheese. Camembert originated in Normandy where the terroir with its pastures in close proximity to the Atlantic lends the cheese a broccoli like aroma. Brie, on the other hand, is cultivated further inland in the Il-de-France region, and has a more mushroomy aroma.  The variations in taste are subtle, but Brie is milder with a creamy, buttery taste, while Camembert has a deeper, more earthy and intense flavour.

What do they pair well with?

One of the more exciting things about cheese is its diverse ability to pair with so many options, sweet and savoury, hot or cold, day or night. Here are a few of my favourite flavour profiles and pairings to try at home.

Brie with brussels sprouts and bacon

Alliteration aside, I love this combination because the brussels sprouts are roasted in butter with a little bit of brown sugar which will add a nutty taste. The caramelisation will also help remove the bitterness of the sprouts while the bacon adds a salty flavour. Add a drizzle of honey to the combination to bring out the velvety texture of the brie and you have a bonafide winner on your hands.

Camembert with Cape gooseberries and chocolate

If you’ve never tried cheese with chocolate, you’re missing out. The tartness and slightly sweet gooseberries in this combination go well with the richness and creaminess of the camembert, while the chocolate adds a bitter-sweet taste. My rule of thumb is to pair chocolate with a cheese that has a similar flavour profile. If a chocolate is more nutty, pair it with an aged, firm, nutty cheese.  If it is a little more savoury, pair it with a washed rind that will enhance those flavors. Be sure to read the descriptions of finer chocolate bars, often found on more premium brands of chocolate that savour the cacao bean and its processing.  This will also help inform what cheeses to pair with the flavours and aromas the chocolate naturally contains.

Bon appetit!