The USDA strictly bans the import of unpasteurized, raw-milk cheeses, less than 60 days old, like Epoisse. The regulators are concerned over potential outbreaks of listeria caused by infected dairy products.
The ban "is very unfortunate," says Daphne Zepos director of affinage (aging of cheese) at the Artisanal Cheese Center in New York City. "Raw milk cheeses are incredibly safe." She does think, however, that Americans should comply with FDA regulations because the efforts to smuggle cheeses in can subject them to conditions that foster bacterial growth.
Artisanal does import an FDA-approved pasteurized Epoisse, which Zepos says comes very close to the taste of its prohibited compatriots. Zepos calls Epoisse the "ambassador of the stinky French cheese." She describes the aroma as "like your 15-year-old son's socks after a baseball game, but in a nice way."
The cheese, says Zepos, is creamy and delicate in the mouth -- a surprise after the strong smell -- with the tastes of earth and wood marsh. Zepos says Artisanal's Epoisse is "tamer, kinder, gentler than the raw-milk Epoisses."