Epoisses cheese is a soft, washed-rind French cheese made in the Burgundy region.
It has a creamy texture and a pungent, earthy aroma and flavor. While delicious, Epoisses can be expensive and difficult to find.
Luckily, there are several great substitute cheeses that can deliver a similar taste and texture at a more accessible price point.
What is Epoisses Cheese?
Epoisses is a French cow's milk cheese that originated in the village of Epoisses in Burgundy. It has a distinctive orange rind and creamy, pasty interior. The rind is washed with brine and brandy, which gives Epoisses its characteristic strong aroma. Underneath its pungent exterior, Epoisses has a rich, salty, and mildly sweet flavor. It has a soft, slightly runny texture when ripe.
Epoisses is made from raw or pasteurized cow's milk. It is aged for 4-6 weeks to develop its signature gooey texture and robust flavors. Epoisses has a fat content of around 50%. True Epoisses is produced only in the Burgundy region and is protected by AOC status, which regulates its production.
This iconic cheese is bold in flavor and aroma. Some describe its scent as “barnyardy.” Its odor is so strong that Epoisses is supposedly banned from public transport in France! Don't let its funky smell deter you though. Underneath lies an indulgent cheese that is surprisingly versatile. Epoisses works well on a cheeseboard, in cooked dishes, and paired with fruit, bread, cured meats, and wine.
Qualities to Look for in an Epoisses Substitute
To find a suitable alternative for Epoisses, you'll want to try cheeses that share the following characteristics:
- Soft, creamy texture - Epoisses has a luxuriously soft, spreadable texture when ripe. Look for cheeses with a similar smooth and runny consistency.
- Buttery, rich flavor - Epoisses has a rich, salty flavor with notes of butter and caramelized milk. Substitutes should have a comparable full-bodied taste.
- Pungent aroma - Strong scents are a signature of washed rind cheeses like Epoisses. Alternatives will also have a robust, earthy smell.
- Orange/reddish rind - Epoisses's rind is reddish-orange in color, so try cheeses with a similar hue.
- Cow's milk - True Epoisses is made solely from cow's milk, so substitutes using it will be closest in flavor.
- French origin - Opt for cheeses from France, especially the Burgundy or Loire Valley regions.
Considering these factors will help you select a cheese that can stand in for Epoisses when you can't get the real thing.
5 Best Substitutes for Epoisses Cheese
Here are some excellent alternatives that you can use in place of Epoisses:
Pont-l'Évêque is a soft washed-rind French cheese named after the Normandy village where it originated. Like Epoisses, it is made from cow's milk and has a creamy, spoonable texture when ripe. Pont-l'Évêque's rind is orange-yellow and its aroma is robust, though not quite as strong as Epoisses. Its flavor is rich, tangy, and mildly earthy.
Pont-l'Évêque makes an ideal substitute thanks to its comparable texture and strong scent. Opt for versions made from raw milk for the most similarity to Epoisses in flavor. Pont-l'Évêque has a fat content around 45%. It can be used in cooked dishes in the same way you would use Epoisses.
Munster is another classic soft French cheese to turn to in place of Epoisses. It hails from the Alsace region and comes in variations like French Munster (made from raw cow's milk) and German Munster (made from pasteurized milk).
Munster has a sticky orange rind and a creamy interior when ripe. It shares the pungent aroma of Epoisses, though it is milder in flavor. The taste of Munster is nutty, meaty, and lightly salty. Its fat content is around 45%. The smooth and oozy texture when mature makes it melt beautifully in cooking.
Limburger is a washed-rind cheese originally from Belgium. It is made from cow's milk and has a rind that varies from yellow to red-brown in color. Limburger is renowned for having a very robust aroma, even stronger than Epoisses. But its flavor is mild, tangy, and earthy.
If you don't mind an extra stinky scent, Limburger's gooey texture and full flavor make it a good match for Epoisses. The fat content is around 50% in this cheese. Limburger works well in sandwiches, baked dishes, and with beer.
Maroilles comes from the northern French region of Picardy. It has a reddish-orange rind and smooth, pale interior when ripe. Maroilles undergoes frequent brine washings during aging to cultivate its pungent aroma and sticky rind.
The flavor of Maroilles is earthy and meaty, with a noticeable saltiness. It has a rich, fudgy texture similar to Epoisses. Maroilles contains around 45% fat. Its potent smell and indulgent flavor profile make it a solid substitute in cooked recipes.
5. Saint Marcellin
Saint Marcellin is a soft, creamy cheese from the Rhône-Alpes region of France. It is made from whole cow's milk and comes in small disk shapes. Saint Marcellin has a bloomy white rind that develops reddish spots when ripe.
This cheese shares the velvety smooth texture of Epoisses, although it has a less pungent aroma. The flavor of Saint Marcellin is lightly salty and nutty. With a fat content of 50%, it provides the lush mouthfeel of Epoisses. Saint Marcellin is a milder but still pleasing substitute.
Key Takeaway: Great substitutes for Epoisses include Pont-l'Évêque, Munster, Limburger, Maroilles, and Saint Marcellin. Look for soft French cow's milk cheeses with robust aroma and creamy texture.
How to Select an Epoisses Cheese Substitute
When shopping for an Epoisses alternative, here are some helpful tips:
- Look for oranges or reddish rinds, which indicate washed-rind cheeses.
- Check the cheese is soft or semi-soft when ripe. Press it gently - the rind should give way.
- Smell the cheese! It should have a noticeable aroma, even through the packaging.
- Higher fat cheeses tend to have a richer, creamier texture similar to Epoisses. Aim for 45-50% fat.
- For optimum flavor similarity, choose raw milk cheeses from France. Pasteurized is okay too.
- Small, round shapes 4-8 inches wide are typical for soft washed rind cheeses.
- The substitute should cost less per pound than Epoisses, which can run $25 or more per pound.
- Ask cheesemongers for suggestions! Tell them you're seeking a creamy French cheese with robust aroma.
Choosing an Epoisses dupe with the right characteristics will help ensure it has a comparable eating experience. Pay attention to texture, aroma, appearance and flavor profile when selecting a substitute cheese.
How to Use an Epoisses Substitute
Once you've picked a suitable Epoisses alternative cheese, you'll want to use it in ways that highlight its similarities. Here are tips for incorporating substitute cheeses into dishes:
- Let it ripen fully - Allow the cheese to develop a soft, gooey texture and strong aroma at room temperature.
- Serve at room temperature - Let the cheese warm up before eating to unlock its full range of flavors and smooth texture.
- Pair with fruits or nuts - Grapes, apples, figs, walnuts and almonds complement the sweet, salty flavors.
- Eat with bread or crackers - Spread on slices of baguette or quality crackers to enjoy its richness.
- Add to baked dishes - Melt into gratins, tarts, soups, risottos, pastas and baked vegetables.
- Stir into sauces - Mix a spoonful into pan sauces, fondue, rarebit, or macaroni and cheese.
- Top meat dishes - Melt onto a burger or steak for decadent flavor.
- Create a cheeseboard - Combine with cured meats, nuts, chutneys, and toasted bread. Place towards the end, as strong flavors can overpower.
- Make cheese straws - Mix grated substitute cheese into savory shortcrust pastry and bake into straws or sticks.
- Fill omelets or crepes - Add dollops of the creamy cheese into eggs or pancakes and gently heat through.
- Sandwich with bacon - The saltiness pairs wonderfully with cured bacon on toast or a roll.
- Stuff into burgers - Mix globs of the softened cheese into ground meat before patties are formed.
- Finish risottos and pasta - Stir in pieces at the end for a rich, creamy coating.
- Top crackers or crostini - Quick and easy canapés for entertaining.
- Create a cheese sauce - Gently melt into milk, stock or wine to make a smooth sauce for veggies, potatoes or nachos.
- Swap into any Epoisses recipe - Use the substitute 1:1 in place of Epoisses in cooked recipes or cheeseboards.
The beauty of these cheeses is their versatility. Get creative with how you incorporate your Epoisses alternative into meals, snacks, appetizers and more!
Why use a substitute instead of real Epoisses?
Epoisses is expensive since it is produced in limited quantities and must be imported outside France. Good substitutes provide the same experience at a lower cost. Epoisses is also hard to find depending on where you live. Using an easier to source alternative means you can enjoy similar flavors.
What's the difference between Epoisses and its substitutes?
True Epoisses has a very complex flavor profile and robust scent. The substitutes recommended here will be close but not identical. The aromas may be less potent and the flavors usually milder. But the textures are comparable and the eating experience will be reminiscent of Epoisses.
Is it okay to use pasteurized substitutes instead of raw milk cheeses?
Yes, pasteurized cheeses are perfectly fine substitutes. Though raw milk versions like true Epoisses may offer more complexity, pasteurized cheeses still deliver rich, creamy flavors. Pasteurization creates safer cheeses, so don't be afraid to use those alternatives.
Can I use blue cheeses instead since they're strong?
Blue cheeses have very different flavor profiles from Epoisses, so they are not direct substitutes. But in some instances their bold flavors can work instead of Epoisses, like on a cheeseboard. In cooked applications, stick to the washed rind cheeses recommended earlier.
What wine pairs well with Epoisses substitute cheeses?
Red Burgundy wine is the classic pairing with Epoisses. Full-bodied Pinot Noir or fruity Beaujolais wines complement the richness of these soft washed rind substitutes. Champagne or Riesling make nice white wine pairings.
With its indulgent texture and distinct aroma, Epoisses makes a fantastic addition to any cheeseboard or recipe.
But when you can't get your hands on the pricey imported original, there are plenty of accessible alternatives available.
French cheeses like Pont-l'Évêque, Munster, Maroilles, and Saint Marcellin make excellent substitutes.