The story of Brillat–Savarin

Unlike many other kinds of cheese, Brillat-Savarin is not named after a geographical location but a historical person. This is the story of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and his love for sugar.

30 May 2020 •

The peri­od around the end of the 18th cen­tu­ry was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary time. Especially in France where Jean Anthelme Brillat – Savarin lived and worked. As a lawyer and states­man, he was respect­ed, but it is like a gas­tronome he is best known for. And as a cheese.

Lawyer and statesman with a taste for the good in life

Illustration /​ Brillat Savarin

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was born in 1755 in the French city of Belley, near the Swiss bor­der. He came from a bour­geois fam­i­ly where many had high offices. The young Jean Anthelme would stay in this tra­di­tion. He grad­u­at­ed as a lawyer and was even­tu­al­ly elect­ed to the National Assembly at the same time as the out­break of the French Revolution. But it was trou­bling times. Brillat-Savarin was accused of fed­er­al­ism and had to flee the coun­try. But after a few years abroad, it was pos­si­ble for him to return.

Brillat–Savarin had more than one string to his bow. In addi­tion to law, he was well-versed in chem­istry and physics, spoke sev­er­al lan­guages and played the piano. But the rea­son why he lat­er had to lends his name to a cheese can be found in his culi­nary interest.

The Physiology of Taste

The Physiology of Taste is Brillat–Savarin’s most famous work and a clas­sic in the food lit­er­a­ture genre. The fact that it has received such acknowl­edge­ment is quite impres­sive con­sid­er­ing that food was a hob­by for Brillat-Savarin and not some­thing that belonged to his profession.

In the book, he describes both food and peo­ple and dif­fer­ent types of ingre­di­ents. Sugar is also described from dif­fer­ent perspectives.

Brillat-Savarin writes that sug­ar ‘made its entry into the world through the pharmacist’s exper­i­men­ta­tion’. The fact that sug­ar was some­thing that phar­ma­cists were devel­op­ing didn’t calm the pub­lic. People became scep­ti­cal of sug­ar and var­i­ous the­o­ries quick­ly became truths. Some claimed that it ‘affect­ed the chest’, or gave rise to stroke or the some­what dif­fuse ‘incite­ment’.

Sugar – a love affair

It is very close at hand to draw par­al­lels to today’s food indus­try with all the sub­stances, addi­tives and chem­i­cal con­cepts that cre­ate mis­trust of every­day consumers.

Today, it is dif­fi­cult for us to see the pro­duc­tion of sug­ar as high-tech cut­ting-edge research by learned men, with­out any pub­lic insight. But this was the case accord­ing to Brillat–Savarin.

Soon, scep­ti­cism turned to love and sug­ar quick­ly found dif­fer­ent areas of appli­ca­tion. Many of them still exists (for exam­ple, in pas­tries and cof­fee). And some are more rare to us today (eg sug­ar as a medicine).

People were bliss­ful­ly unaware of the fact that sug­ar some­how was unhealthy. What wor­ried peo­ple was the high price. Brillat–Savarin con­cludes a chap­ter by quot­ing a writer in Versailles by the name of Delacroix: ‘Alas, if the sug­ar once want­ed to drop to thir­ty sous, then I would nev­er drink any­thing but sug­ar water’.

Brillat–Savarin con­tin­ues: ‘His prayer was heard, he is still alive, and I hope he keeps his promise’.

The Brillat–Savarin cheese

Foto: Chkrout (CC BY 3.0)”

But how did the Brillat-Savarin cheese get its name? It wasn’t until the 1930s. Cheesemaker Henri Androuet want­ed to hon­our the great gas­tron­o­mist and states­man Brillat-Savarin and there­fore name a cheese after him. And so he did.

Brillat–Savarin is a so-called ‘triple cream’. It must have a fat con­tent of at least 75 per cent and in order to suc­ceed, you enrich the milk with cream in the pro­duc­tion. The end prod­uct becomes a silky, mild and fat­ty cream cheese.

Select the correct supplements

A slice of Brillat–Savarin could be enjoyed with sparkling wine or a light lager. But to be hon­est, cham­pagne is the choice of the true epi­cure­an. That is what the famous Swedish food con­nois­seur Carl-Jan Granqvist thinks, and Brillat-Savarin him­self would prob­a­bly agree on that.

And as a fin­ish­ing touch, we favourably choose a ste­via-sweet­ened mar­malade. Sugar in all its glo­ry but why not com­bine tra­di­tion with inno­va­tion? After all, sug­ar was once upon a time the essence of high-tech modernity.

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