I once ordered a Maroilles tart in a restaurant in Lille. I smelled it before the server carried it out of the kitchen. As the aroma of this stinky cheese wafted around the restaurant, other diners turned to track its destination. “Voila” proclaimed the server enthusiastically, “Maroilles for the Anglaise.” The rest of the diners burst into applause. It’s the sort of cheese that creates drama…
Maroilles, also called Marolles, is a cow’s milk cheese made in the Picardy and Nord-Pas-de-Calais departments of Northern France. The cheese gets its name from the village of Maroilles in Nord, region Hauts-de-France, where it is still produced. In fact if you go there, you may spot a Maroilles vending machine in the street!
It’s an ancient cheese, said to have first been made in around 960 by monks at the Abbey of Maroilles. Then it was known as Craquegnon and made from milk produced in nearby Thiérache. In 1245 the name changed to Maro Lalo and then shortly after to Maroilles. The cheese became famous throughout France and was said to be a favourite of several French kings including Philip II, Louis IX, Charles VI and Francis I.
So beloved is this cheese that there is a Brotherhood of Maroilles dedicated to it. Their motto goes along the lines of: “Shame on him him who claims to keep a good table but has no Maroilles…”
What sort of cheese is Maroilles?
It’s a square cheese with an orange colour and a distinctive smell and taste. The surface of the cheese is marked by the maturing racks which gives it an artisan feel though it can be produced on an industrial scale these days. There are 189 municipalities in Nord and Aisne (Picardy) authorised to produce Maroilles, and rules are rigidly adhered to. At least 80% of the cows’ food has to come from the region and the cows must have at least 170 days outside. It typically takes around 35 to 49 days to make Maroilles following a process of moulding, turning, being bathed in brine, manual brushing with salt water and then maturing. The older the cheese, the earthier the taste.
And talking of taste… Each September, the town of La Capelle in the Aisne department hosts a cheese fair at which a Maroilles eating contest is held. Fancy your chances? You’ll need to beat 2.052kg in 20 minutes (a 2016 record)!
Maroilles pairs well with robust red wine including Chateauneuf du Pape, or a bitter beer. And it’s very good cooked with flammekueche, tartiflette, tarts and local favourite – martiflette. A take on tartiflette with Maroilles and locally grown endives.
More French cheese stuff
Boulette d’Asvenes AKA the Devil’s Suppository
Recipe for extra cheesy cheese puffs
Flammekueche – utterly scrumptious