since writing this post I ran into some real mimolette in NYC and here is a photo! Check out the great mite rind
Full disclosure: I have had a cheese crush on Mimolette for months. Not that I have ever tasted it-let’s be clear-but the very idea, nay the very notion of this cheese has made me shiver with cheese pleasure. Why is this, you might rightly ask, and here it is, the sordid truth: Mimolette is created with the aid of CHEESE MITES. That’s right. CHEESE MITES. Since I started this journey into cheese, this folly du fromage– I have heard rumours of bug-based cheeses. We aren’t just talking bugs metaphorically in the bacterial state-but actual freaking BUG-BASED cheeses. To my knowledge, this is the only one legally sold in Canada. Of course, I have waxed on about Casu Marzu here before, a Pecorino served with live bug larvae from Sardinia. Alas, Casu Marzu is even illegal and impossible to find in Sardinia! I have had to focus my bug and cheese obsession instead on the lovely and evasive Mimolette, which until yesterday, I had not been able to find in the entire city of Vancouver.
Perhaps you are wondering why a young lass such as myself is so interested in bug-based cheeses. The truth is, there used to be a lot more bugs in our cheese. Think about it: old milk, damp cellars, no DEET: things happened. In some types of cheese, this was even encouraged, and thus there is a secret little dirty history of bugs and cheese that we have virtually sanitized out of existence: except Mimolette. It’s like a vestigial cheese from the glory days of cheese and bugs. Only Mimolette embraces it’s buggy past.
Mimolette is a cheese traditionally produced around the city of Lille in France. It is also known as Boule de Lille after its city of origin, or vieux Hollande for being made after the tradition of Edam cheese. It’s also known in some areas as commissiekaas. Mimolette was -according to cheese legend-and you know how I love me a cheese legend-originally made by the request of King Louis X IV who was looking for a native French product to replace the then very popular dutch cheese, Edam. Import laws of the time forbade the importation of foreign cheese, so a new type of Edam needed to be developed for those French with a hankering for Edam. To differentiate it from Edam he had it colored orange with the natural cheese dye, annatto. Mimolette is a cow’s milk cheese, made from pasteurized milk. Its name comes from the French word molle, meaning “soft”. This refers to the softness of the crust when young – with age it becomes harder. It has a gray crust and orange flesh. The cheese has a similar appearance, at first glance, to a cantaloupe.
But…wait, let’s get back to that crust, shall we? The greyish crust of Mimolette is the result of CHEESE MITES intentionally introduced to add flavor by their burrowing and digestive action on the surface of the cheese. Mimolette cheese uses Acarus siro mites (also known as flour mites) Their spitting and digesting was originally a happy coincidence, but now is purposefully introduced to add flavor to the cheese. As the Acarus siro mites burrow through the cheese and devour the rind, they promote air flow and flavor development. The mites are reportedly gone before the cheese is sold. Reportedly.
Mimolette can be consumed at different stages of aging. When younger, its taste resembles that of Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s also eaten “extra-old” (extra-vieille). At that point, it can become rather hard to chew. The mites don’t actual enter into the eating of this cheese. Or so they say.
My little wedge of Mimolette is hugely disappointing to me. If you look carefully at the photo you will see that there is no grey cratered mite crust. This is simply unacceptable. In fact, there appears to be an orange wax rind a la gouda or Edam. It looks like this little slice has been heinously sanitized for export. If indeed it is real Mimolette, the mitey crust has been removed and replaced with a little plasticky wrap, and that almost brings me to tears. Let’s hope it was due to some mean kind of import rules, I can’t stand to think that no mites were used in the creation of my cheese.
So really, this Mimolette just looks like some cheddar cheese to me now, after all that excitement. It’s dark orange in hue and has a firm paste throughout. If I look very closely near where the rind was removed I do see faint white etchings in the cheese. I choose to believe that these are mite castings, as that pleases me. We shall never know the truth.
Well, it’s kind of boring after all of that build up. Sigh. It is kind of like an Edam, and well, Edam’s actually also a bit of a yawner for me. It’s pleasant enough, It’s a slightly salty, slightly lemony, slighty chewy, slightly flavourful cheese, but really, nothing to write home about. It’s inoffensive and mild and if you didn’t know better-you would assume it was just some insipid cheddar. I’m just crestfallen over Mimolette. No mites and no bite. Alas, Mimolette, despite all the build up, there’s nothing mitey about you-you are not my slice of cheese.