Putting Brie to Good Use

Did you hear about the explosion at the French cheese factory? All that was left was de Brie.


So, I fought against getting a smart phone for a long time. A loooong time. Then one day my trusty old Nokia suddenly kicked the bucket, and I was randomly offered an iPhone for free. In the midst of my grief, I accepted, and things haven’t been quite the same since. I like the phone, but it’s not all scoring QuizUp points for Buffy-related nerd-dom and getting fun Snapchats from my friend Terese. I still get cranky because I miss having real buttons, and I hate having to charge my phone every day instead of the bi-annual boost required by its predecessor. The best thing about the phone, though, is that it is now incredibly easy to take photos of all the dogs I know and love, and instantly share them with the world via Instagram, which I am now addicted to. This is a level of convenience I never knew until the dawn of my smart phone era. Several years behind the dawn of everyone else’s.

Another way in which my phone has helped me out is that now, when I see a cool recipe while trawling through cookbooks and magazines, I can just snap a quick photo of it. (If I didn’t hate those TV meerkats, this is where I would say, “Simples.” Please kill me now.) This is a great plan in theory, but these photo-recipes almost always end up consigned to the depths of my phone, never to see the light of day or the inside of a kitchen.

This week is no fun, because I have an infection in an impacted wisdom tooth which is (a) unbelievably painful, (b) exhausting and (c) costing me money which I do not have, in the form of antibiotics and many, many painkillers. Seeing as I am therefore sore, tired, broke and super irritable, I am spending much of my time watching TV and tackling those random, rainy-day-type projects that you think about but never get around to actually doing. One of these projects was finally moving all of those recipes off my phone and on to my computer, and in some kind of order as well. Unsurprisingly, I found loads of foodie treats that I have never made and had completely forgotten about. One of them was a recipe for Brie, Courgette and Red Pepper Muffins that I found about eight months ago in an old issue of Easy Food magazine. Huh, I thought. Hmmm. That could be a nice project for tomorrow. And they might be soft enough for me to eat without weeping. And I can give some to my grandparents when I see them on Saturday and make them happy. And I love Brie. I love it.

So the next day, fired up on caffeine and penicillin, I got cracking. While the muffins were in the oven, I got Googling to find out whether Brie de Meaux had an origin story worth writing about. The answer to that is, Hells yes: Brie is wrapped in a history that stretches back over 1,200 years and involves some very illustrious figures. First created in the Middle Ages by the monks of the Priory of Reuil-en-Brie, its celebrity status began in 774, when the French Emperor Charlemagne stopped at the monastery to rest. When he tasted the cheese, he understandably fell head-over-heels with its buttery flavour – so much so that he requested that it be regularly delivered to his castle.

Later, in 1217, King Philippe-Auguste was so impressed by the same cheese that he sent two hundred rounds of Brie de Meaux to his courtiers as New Year’s gifts. The poet Eustache Deschamps detested France, but still loved Brie so much that he declared it “the only good thing to come out of this country.” And during the famous escape of Louis XVI from his arrest at Varennes, he sacrificed precious time to self-satiate with Brie and red wine. If I were facing the guillotine, I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same.

Over in England, Henry IV of England discovered the cheese in 1594 while eating supper with his Queen. The story goes that, after this, the Queen always requested that the cheese be served in her chambers in order to please her husband and keep him from joining his mistress, who was presumably cheeseless. Later, following the fall of the French Empire, the 19th century Congress of Vienna took a short break from dividing up the realm to organise, of all things, a cheese competition. More than sixty cheeses were produced and tasted, including Limburger, Gruyère and Stilton. Once the votes were tallied, Brie de Meaux was declared the King Of Cheeses. Brie de Meaux is still traditionally-made just 30 miles east of Paris in the region of Ile-de-France, and is still one of the best-loved cheeses in the world.

Should you be stuck indoors with a sore mouth and nothing better to do, here’s the recipe for those savoury muffins. Eating one earlier today caused me considerable pain but was definitely worth it. Whether you need to distract yourself from toothache, put a smile on your grandparents’ faces or simple bribe your best friend with a basket of muffin-tops à la Gilmore Girls, this is a good place to start.

Lorelai: What are you doing here?! It’s not even seven a.m.
Sookie: What?! Why can’t a girl get up super-early on her day off, make some muffin tops, and bring a hot cup of coffee over to the best friend and business partner a girl could ever have?
Lorelai: I guess.

First grab these:

  • Knob of butter
  • One large or two small courgettes, cut into small cubes
  • Two red peppers
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 100ml milk
  • 5 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 85g Cheddar, grated
  • 100g Brie, cut into small cubes

Now do this:

  1. Preheat your oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5.
  2. Melt the butter in a frying pan and cook the courgettes until softened. Meanwhile, roast or grill the peppers and then stick them in a bowl and cover tightly with cling film. After five minutes, take them out and peel them by scraping the skins off with a small knife. If and when the skin flakes into tiny pieces and sticks to all your fingers, shout obscenities at the peppers. In retribution, cut out their stalks and remove the membranes from inside. Chop the peppers into small chunks.
  3. Put the flour, baking powder and oregano in a bowl and season well. Make a hole in the middle and pour in the eggs, milk and oil. Stir it all together until it’s thoroughly mixed into a batter.
  4. Add the peppers and courgettes, along with the Brie and two-thirds of the Cheddar. Stir everything until well combined.
  5. Divide equally between the 12 muffin cases and sprinkle over the remaining Cheddar. Bake for 25 mins, or until the muffins are golden and firm to the touch.

Any thoughts on smart phones, impacted teeth, savoury muffins or the history of Brie? Leave a comment below!

[Featured image courtesy of ShutterStock; images 2 and 3 property of Jocelyn Doyle.]