I was surprised to read recently that Mimolette cheese which originates from the city of Lille in the Nord or Nord-Pas de Calais has been banned in the US because of cheese mites.
Apparently the Food and Drug Administration have quarantined several hundred pounds of this delicious cheese in a customs shed for weeks because of fears of cheese mite allergies. This has of course angered the many Mimolette lovers in America who have been holding little protests and have even set up a Facebook page to “Save the Mimolette” – gotta love Facebook haven’t you?!
So – are they right or are they wrong? Are there cheese mites in the cheese?
Well, yes there are but they are an integral part of the cheese making process for Mimolette. Mimolette is also known as Boule de Lille after its city of origin, or Vieux Hollande – nothing to do with the French President of the same name – it is due to the similarity to Edam cheese from Holland.
Mimolette, like many French cheeses, has a distinguished history – it was commissioned by the French King Louis XIV. Or that’s what they say… some people think it has always been made in France but was rebranded to suit the times but no one knows for sure. Legend has it that in the 1600’s the King decreed that the importation of foreign products to France was to be actively avoided, he wanted French goods to take prevalence – some things don’t change do they?!
Restrictions on imports included Edam which was very popular and the King demanded that a French alternative be found, and if there wasn’t one – make one.
So, the cheese makers of Lille came up with a cow’s milk cheese in a ball shape weighing around 2kg with an orange rind created by introducing a natural dye called Anatto (this was used to differentiate it from Edam). But they didn’t stop there – those clever cheese makers found a way to add extra flavour by introducing little cheese mites, microscopic organisms, which create holes in the surface. They’re brushed off from time to time in the cheese making process but some remain.
In France most people agree that a young Mimolette, called demi-vielle or “half old”, and bright orange due to the Anatto dye is not at its best and can be a bit oily tasting. At 12 months Mimolette cheese is honoured with the term vielle or “old,” and at 18 months it is très vielle or “very old” and the rind has a nutty flavour, though I find it a bit chewy.
I say “Vive la Mimolette”!