The ladies at our church gather once a month for an evening of inspiration. This being the final meeting of the year, we deviated from our more formal meeting pattern and gathered for food, fellowship, and games. The invitation said, "We would love if you could bring some of your favorite festive snacks for the evening, or anything you feel inspired to make!"
Favorite festive snack. I couldn't think of a favorite, so I paged through an appetizer cookbook and stumbled onto an entire section of baked cheeses. Immediately, I remembered a heavenly baked Brie I made about ten years ago. I no longer had the recipe, but I knew it had been wrapped in crescent roll dough and eaten with crackers. The women helping small children go through the food line had tasted samples and had carried bites of Brie to their husbands so they too could have some before it was all gone. It was an amazing treat. Recalling it now, I decided that same Golden Baked Brie encased in crescent roll dough and served with crackers would be a fitting contribution to a festive buffet.
But when I went to buy the ingredients, the only Brie Glenwood Foods carried that day was goat cheese. Being concerned that goat cheese might be stronger than I wanted, I searched the shelves and saw a round of Camembert cheese. I knew nothing of Camembert, except that it was the right size and shape. So standing beside the refrigerated cheese case, I did a quick Google search for "Can I substitute Camembert for Brie."
The first thing I read was published by The Cheese Empire and printed in bold: "Brie and Camembert can be substituted for one another..." And, "They can be changed as required within recipes, baking on their own, or enjoying on a simple cheese board." The Spruce Eats said, "They can be interchangeable and are sometimes confused." On a list of The 5 Best Substitutes for Brie Cheese, Camembert was listed as number one. Perfect.
Yes, foodies, I hear your groans. I bought Camembert with the good faith that I could replicate the unforgettable appetizer I baked ten years ago. Indeed, this too would be unforgettable but for an entirely different reason.
I spread the round of cheese with jam, topped it with fresh raspberries, and wrapped it in crescent roll dough. Before I finished wrapping the dough, I broke an edge off the cheese and smelled it. It was strong. Pungent. Powerful enough that I hesitated, wondering if I should risk taking this to a party. But, really. Even though the Camembert packed a powerful punch, other cheeses I love can have a strong smell too. Grated Parmesan, for example, doesn't smell pleasant to me if I put my nose to the can, but it is delicious in a recipe. Thus quieted, I baked the Camembert. It came out of the oven golden brown and smelling wonderfully. Crescent roll dough can deceive you like that.
That evening, I nestled my platter among festive cookie trays, tiny tartlets, tortilla rollups, cheesecake, snowman-shaped cheeseball, fancy party mixes, nuts, and all manner of delightful eats. It was a beautiful and impressive spread.
My back was turned to the food tables when someone cut into the Camembert. I knew immediately what had happened because an overpowering, sweaty-armpits-in-mid-July smell wafted over to me. Inwardly, I froze. If I had been smart, I would have slunk to the table, picked up the dead horse, and put it outside where it belonged. But I didn't. I suppose I hoped it would taste better than it smelled. Crescent roll dough, you know.
Much later, I went to the food tables and searched for diabetic-friendly snacks, thanks to the gestational diabetes I was diagnosed with a month ago. I sadly passed up warm cinnamon rolls and darling tartlets and selected meat and cheeses. I took some cheeseball which I supposed wouldn't spike my finicky sugar levels if I ate it with only a couple of crackers. And then I came to it. Lying shoulder to shoulder with a platter of raspberry white chocolate scones was my odiferous dead horse. I needed to taste it, carbs or no. Perhaps the raspberries and crescent roll dough had worked their wonders on the cheese and would give this a better flavor profile than indicated by the smell.
I lifted a bite to my lips and knew immediately no miracle had occurred. No ingredient I can think of could possibly mask the strength of warm Camembert. I nearly ejected the bite--involuntarily, at that. The powerful flavor increased the longer I chewed. My second and final bite was worse. The scent lingered on my fingers and clung to my plate. This was no relative of the baked dish I lovingly recalled from ten years ago. This putrid dish belonged behind the barn to deter rodents from entering the granary, or beneath hoods of cars to prank your frenemies. Whatever it's many uses may be, a ladies' festive Christmas buffet is not one of them.
At the end of the evening, I quietly picked up my reeking platter and slipped out the back door of the kitchen instead of carrying it through the crowd. I drove with the precision of a limousine driver to ensure that the cheese wouldn't slip off the platter and onto the carpet of the van. If that tragedy had occurred, I supposed the smell would permeate the carpet and render the vehicle unusable for the next decade.
John met me at the door when I got home. Upon seeing him, I pinched my nose and held out the platter. "Smell it."
He took a single whiff and looked at me sympathetically. I scooped molten Camembert onto a buttery cracker and fed it to him. John has an incredibly high tolerance for foods of all kinds. Rarely does he ever dislike something he eats. But this single bite maxed his tolerance.
He chewed, and his face looked like mine had felt when I first popped the bite into my mouth. He swallowed courageously, then turned to the sink for gulps of water. He reached for a banana, for something, for anything that would help wash away the taste.
"Is Camembert related to Limburger?" John asked.
Limburger is notorious for being a strong, prank-worthy cheese. Another quick Google search brought up a list of The 10 Stinkiest Cheeses in the World. Limburger was ranked as #7. Camembert effortlessly beat that record by coming in at #2.
Turns out I had asked Google the wrong question in the grocery store aisle. Asking "Does Camembert stink" gave this understated response from Whole Foods Market: "If you ever have trouble telling Camembert apart from its bloomy-rinded cousin Brie, one sniff should settle things. Camembert is distinguished by an aroma that's hard to miss: one part cabbage and one part barnyard, all wrapped up in that iconic wooden box."
To any church friends reading this, particularly to the ones who braved a bite of Baked Camembert at the ladies' meeting, I offer my sympathies and apologies. I'd also like you to know that you can safely invite me to future parties. I might make a Raspberry Cream Cheese Braid from a tried-and-true recipe. Or maybe a hot dip to serve with tortilla chips. One thing I do know, I will not bring a crescent roll encrusted dead horse to your party. You have my word on that.