May 11, 2013

Mimolette. "Last Chance to See."

    Mimolette.  A wonderfully hard and crusty French cheese that is often compared to those famed well aged Goudas of Holland.  In fact the story goes that a 17th century French King, while at war with Holland, ordered that no more Gouda be imported into France.  He then commanded cheese makers to come up with a cheese that was similar but certainly not Gouda.  What he got was a cannonball shaped (how patriotic) cheese that was about as hard.  Ask any cheesemonger anywhere and they'll tell you what it's like to cut a cold Mimolette.  Which is to say damn near impossible. 
    Personally I have no hyperbole inducing love for Mimolette.  It is a good cheese.  Though I can't say I find myself dreaming about it.  More often I'm craving that Gouda the good French King so abhorred.  But for those who are in love with the stuff they can't get enough of it's caramel tones, flaky texture, and signature earthy/damp cave whiff.  Which brings me to the point of this whole piece.  Mites.  Cheese mites.
    Those tiny creatures that crawl all over the cheese as it is aging in French caves.  Mites munch on microscopic bits of mold that grow on the outside of the young Mimolette.  They burrow into the surface of the cheese its self, carving out warrens of tunnels in search of their fungi food.  In turn the mites allow airflow in and around the cheese letting the other microbes, that are vital to cheese making, do their microbial  thing.  The mites also contribute to the flavor of the cheese.  That earthy/cave damp taste?  Yeah, that was them.   
    These mites are exactly what has the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in an uproar.  Despite zero evidence of the mites causing health problems in anyone (there are people with sensitivities to mites.  However this is from exposure to larger quantities of mites than is found on a Mimolette ready for consumption).  Not to mention spending countless dollars and personnel power on stemming the tide of the estimated one ton of Mimolette that came into New York harbor in March.
    The FDA has ruled that because of mites Mimolette is unfit for human consumption.  Despite having no official standard for how many mites per square inch is acceptable.  The un-official target is 6 mites per square inch.  Sure, during its finishing process the cheese is blasted with compressed air and brushed, but some mites do manage to hang on.  6 mites per square inch is kind of unreasonable.  Hence 2000 pounds of Mimolette are hanging around in limbo in an FDA storage facility in New Jersey.  Inciting outrage from American cheese lovers and frustration from French cheese makers.  I highly recommend that should you find a piece lingering at a cheese counter that you buy it immediately.
    For my part I'm not devastated at the loss of Mimolette.  What I am concerned about is, "what next?"  Next will it be sushi?  Consuming raw or undercooked fish is dangerous.  Will it be all raw milk cheeses, regardless of aging time?  Consuming unpasteurized milk is dangerous.  Will it even be something as benign as sourdough bread?  All those bacteria, fungi, and microbes could be dangerous.  More than I'm concerned about the fate of poor Mimolette, I'm concerned about how far will the FDA go to dictate what we can and cannot eat.
    Mimolette.  It's your "Last Chance to See."