Some of the saddest words we ever have to utter to a customer are, “we can no longer get that cheese in the US.” Sometimes cheese producers decide to stop selling to the US (as in the case of Australia’s Roaring 40’s). But sometimes the cheesemakers have that decision made for them, which is what has recently happened to one of France’s most internationally famous cheeses, Mimolette.
Mimolette is a traditional hard cow’s milk cheese shaped like a sphere, giving the impression of a cantaloupe or cannonball. Rumor has it that Mimolette actually was used in the cannons of the 100 Year War when they ran out of the real thing! Its production dates back to the reign of King Louis XIV, when the King was looking for a French cheese to replace the popular Dutch cheese, Edam. Mimolette is bright orange on the inside (due to the use of the natural vegetable dye, annatto) with a brownish-orange rind. The aged version is full of big flavors- salty & nutty with a unique texture that I can really only describe as “waxy” (but it in a good way?) The rind is full of pockmarks, caused by cheese mites that are intentionally introduced to the cheese to influence the flavor.
It is precisely these cheese mites that have caused such turmoil. In late May, the FDA held up a huge shipment of Mimolette (1.5 tons, to be exact), stating that the rinds of the cheeses were too full of mites. The FDA has an established standard of 6 mites per square inch, and some of the cheeses inspected in May were found to have up to 4,000 mites per square inch! Although the mites have no history of inducing sickness, they are technically considered “filth” by the FDA. So all 1.5 tons of Mimolette were subsequently destroyed! And now French cheesemakers face the conundrum of severely altering their traditional recipes to make a cheese that looks and tastes different than the original, or not sending any cheese to the US at all.
As you can imagine, this led to an outcry amongst cheese lovers everywhere. Editorials and social media campaigns have popped up all across the US. But, sadly for all of us, it looks as though we must say au revoir to this classic, one-of-a-kind cheese. And, if you are ever lucky enough to be in France, be sure to gorge yourself on Mimolette- it may be the only time you will be able to have it!