Behind the Rind: Cheese Mites and Mimolette
A wheel of cheese is a living breathing thing; just one look at a fluffy white rind or a blue veined interior shows us this. A truckle of cheddar with its mottled rind of browns, greys, blues and greens reveals just a fraction of the menagerie of bacteria, yeasts, moulds and more, that call cheese home. Far more than can be seen by the naked eye. Take a magnifying glass to the boulderous looking cheese Mimolette and you may be surprised to see a great deal of activity on that dusty brown rind. So much activity in fact, that a film made in 1903 aptly named ‘Cheese Mites’ that showed these bugs so enjoying a piece of cheese in all their glory, was banned in the UK due to fears that it could affect cheese sales.
Microscopic bugs known as cheese mites are both a blessing and a curse to cheesemakers and affineurs worldwide. They love having a cool, damp space to feast on their favourite food so cheese caves are their ideal home. They flock to cooked, pressed cheeses such as Comté or Cheddar, boring through the crust and eating their way through the soft paste leaving behind a sweet almost floral flavour.
If left unchecked, mites can quickly take over the wheel – leaving it inedible. Great care in cheese caves is taken to ensure cheese mites aren’t allowed to run amok. Regular cleaning, brushing and flipping the wheels as well as cleaning the shelves and floors helps keep the bugs in check and is an important part of an affineur’s work. Some wheels even have built in protection against cheese mite invasion – think the cloth binding on a wheel of cheddar or the oiled rind of Parmigiano Reggiano.
There is one cheese where mites really are guests of honour: Mimolette. A beautiful, orange sphere. Smooth and round like a cannonball, rock hard in texture, produced in the city of Lille in Northern France treading the border with Belgium. Given maturation space of its own, away from any other cheese, the mites are given the freedom to run wild, eating to their hearts’ content. As they break through the rind and burrow deeper into the wheel, the paste begins to oxidise and its flavours change and evolve the deeper they get. At the end we are left with a prettily pockmarked wheel of cheese, full of flavours of salted caramel, grass and dried flowers. Our wheels are aged for at least 24 months and are stunningly complex.
With its proud pumpkin orange colour, creamy texture and savoury, malty flavours, Mimolette works well with richer reds. Paired perfectly with the plush, ripe plummy fruit of Argentinian malbec, it’s blue and black plum fruit has enough alpine freshness and earthy character to highlight the wonderfully intense and complex notes of the Mimolette.