Making Mimolette Cheese

A year or so ago, I went to one of the Fancy Food Shows in the U.S. that are held once or twice a year, and are only open to professionals. They’re held in convention centers and you can find (and sample) a variety of foods from around the world. Past trends meant that you’d go and find a lot of salsas or biscotti, cocktail mixes or gluten-free foods, and for several years, you’d find no shortage of cupcakes, either.

But it’s fun to stroll the aisles where other countries show their wares. There are a lot of Italian pastas and cheeses, olives and feta cheese from Greece, Turkish olive oils and Lebanese breads, and foods from France. I don’t always know what’s available in the States, but whenever I mentioned French Mimolette cheese online, people would say, “Oh, if only we could get that in America!”

So I was surprised to see wedges of Mimolette (and blocks of French beurre d’Isigny) on display, which were presumably for sale in the United States. Yes, in 2013, the cheese was temporarily banned in America due to the cheese mites that burrow into the surface. The ban was short-lived, however, and a year later, Mimolette was available again.

Mimolette is a cheese originally made in the north of France, and is often referred to as Boule de Lille, named after Lille, a city close to Belgium and Holland, where similarly rounded cheeses are made. Due to restriction against importing cheese during the France-Dutch war in 1675 by the finance minister of Louis the XIV, this French version of their cheese was born. (Others dispute that story.) Orange coloring was added to distinguish it from its Dutch cousins.

Mimolette was never bestowed with the AOP status, which could have insisted that the cheese was made in a certain place, but it can be made anywhere in France. Since Normandy is famous for its milk, as well as its cheeses, Mimolette is also made at Isigny Ste-Mère, where I visited to see Camembert du Normandie and their fabulous French butter and crème fraîche, being made. (The butter, I also learned at the Fancy Food Show, was available in the United States, but not the fresh cream. So you still have to go to France to get crème d’Isigny.)

I was with my travel mate Ry Stephen, who’s known for his excellent, and creative, croissants and cruffins at Supermoon Bakehouse in New York. We won’t take any bets on Who Wore it Best, accessorizing our gilets jaunes (yellow vests) in place, for safety, with matching red charlottes (hairnets), and donning our rubber boots (since the floors can be slippery with whey), we began our journey to see how Mimolette was made.

The milk is warmed in a machine, then an enzyme is added to begin the curdling process, to separate the solids from the whey.

As the milk is coagulating, annatto is added, a natural colorant derived from seeds. They asked me if I wanted to add some of the colorant to the milk, but I didn’t want to be photographed wearing that safety get-up (those charlottes are particularly unflattering…), but Ry courageously took one for the team.

While the milk is curdling, molds are prepared while the milk simmers away in a steel tank. Each mold is lined with loose nylon netting, to coax the curds into the traditional round shape, as they drain and dry.

One the milk is ready, the curds of milk are cut into soft blocks, with the texture and wiggle similar to tofu. The fellow putting the blocks in the mold was working so fast I had a hard time getting a picture of him.

This pâte pressée cheese then gets pressed about 1 1/2 hours after the curds are put into the molds (below), using 20 kilos (44 pounds) of pressure to reinforce the shape of the cheese, and to remove moisture. When making a young cheese like Camembert, they want to retain more of the humidity of curds, as Camembert is sold younger, so it’s wetter), Mimolette is a drier cheese, and it often aged for years.

The rounds of Mimolettes get a salt bath, which lasts about three days, a step which further helps to draw out more moisture, and provide a little flavor.

The cheeses are then put on racks, ready to go to their next stop, which is the ripening cave.

The ripening cave at Isigny Ste. Mère holds 700,000 cheeses, each getting turned every two days, by hand.

They’re put on wooden boards, something that regulators in Europe and in the U.S. have questioned, but they’re the best way to ripen cheeses since they allow air to flow around them and the wood absorbs some of the moisture, too.

About 6 months into the ripening, the cheeses are rapped with a wooden mallet. If the cheese vibrates too much, it may have air bubbles inside and will be sold young, up to 6 months old. If the noise is muffled, it’ll get aged longer, up to 24 months at Isigny Ste-Mère. A few other cheesemakers age some of their Mimolettes longer, but those are quite rare. They’re quite sharp and their dry pâte makes them a challenge to cut into slices.

After ripening on wood, the cheeses are moved to another cave, where they rest on netting, allowing the natural mold to grow uniformly around the entire cheese.

During this period, the famous (or infamous) cheese mites “attack” the cheese, eating into the crust, which gives Mimolette a lunar-like surface. The older the Mimolettes get, the more crusty and mottled the cheese becomes. This one below has been ripening for 1 1/2 years and is covered in mites.

You can see the difference between the young and older Mimolettes below. Jeune (young) Mimolette means the cheese has ripened three months and demi-vieille means the cheese has ripened 6 months. Both versions are sweeter and creamier than the more aged varieties. Vieille Mimolette has aged for 12 months, and those Mimolettes have a nuttier flavor and firmer texture. Anything over 12 to 18 months is called extra-vieille. Grand réserve Mimolettes, which you rarely see, are aged two years or longer.

On a side note, another famous “export’ from Isigny is…Disney. The family name comes from “d’Isigny,” which means “from Isigny.” The story is recounted here, and if you visit the region, make sure to visit the Muséal Walt d’Isigny. Opened in 2018, the museum displays part of the collection of a local, Annick Adam, a Frenchwoman who spent decades obsessively collecting Mickey Mouse memorabilia. Which must have been quite a challenge before the internet came along.

Neither Ry or I were lured to Normandy to look at a collection of Mickey Mouse stuff – we’d come for the butter, caramels, calvados, and cheese – but we were both wowed by everything. So it’s not because mice like cheese, but to commemorate the alliance between Disney and Isigny, Isigny Ste-Mère produces a special extra-vieille Mimolette with Mickey Mouse on it.

After we took off our lab coats and yellow vests (and charlottes), we sampled the different types of Mimolette.

Oh, and about those mites. Before leaving the factory, the mites are brushed off by hand, or with compressed air. Any lingering mites don’t survive the sous-vide (vacuum sealed) process, for export. So (hopefully) you can enjoy Mimolette wherever you are.

 

Making Mimolette Cheese in Normandy, France

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39 comments

  • October 4, 2019 5:17pm

    Thank you for this very interesting story. My grand parents (living in France) always had mimolette for their breakfast and when we visited them (from Switzerland), the orange mimolette seemed very exotic and special and we loved it! This cheese will always remind me of my grand parents :) (I am now going to see if I can find some here, in Alberta!) Reply

  • Lesley Jacobs
    October 4, 2019 6:17pm

    David, thank you for the great post. I love mimolette cheese, and lucky for me it is available in Seattle. I have heard it is a cheese that is given to youngsters in France as they develop their taste for cheese. Is that true? I find it is a great addition to a cheese plate because of the beautiful color and flavor. Adults enjoy it very much, even if it is true that it is a “kid’s cheese”. Reply

    • Thomas
      October 5, 2019 9:25pm

      born and raised in France here and mimolette (mimo when i was a kid) was definitely given to me at a young age and even the only thing given to me when i was sick, a kid gnawing on it and cheese… Reply

    • Chris Moore
      October 7, 2019 9:30pm

      I am also in Seattle. Please tell me where to buy. Thanks so much!!! Reply

    • Flor de Maria
      October 8, 2019 6:44pm

      Hi, where do you get it in Seattle?
      Thanks Reply

  • rainey
    October 5, 2019 2:49am

    Mimolette used to be readily available in Los Angeles but, now that you mention it, I’m not sure when I last saw it.

    I will have to look harder.

    Fascinating to hear about the derivation of Disney. Like denim, once you hear the story, it makes perfect sense and you wonder how it escaped you.

    Just reading “L’appart” and laughing and fuming along with you. So glad you had “pas des problems”… Reply

    • October 5, 2019 4:26pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks – glad you’re enjoying the book…the ups, and downs! :) Reply

    • Barbie
      October 8, 2019 8:43pm

      I found Mimolette at Bristol Farms which has a number of sites in southern California.

      I’m sure it is also available at The Cheese Shop in San Francisco. On a rare occasion, I saw it in Trader Joe’s.

      Barbie Reply

  • Margaret
    October 5, 2019 6:30am

    Very interesting article, thank you! Do the cheese mites attack other types of cheeses as well? Reply

    • October 5, 2019 4:25pm
      David Lebovitz

      None that I know of, but this is a Sardinian cheese called Casu Marzu, which is infested with another type of insect, which has been described in unflattering terms ; ) Reply

  • rose
    October 6, 2019 2:27am

    I feel like the photos in this essay are especially good – in #10, the angle and composition is particularly artful, very architectural and of gallery quality. Well done and thank you! Reply

    • October 6, 2019 2:02pm
      David Lebovitz

      Glad you like the photos. The lightly in the factory was pretty challenging and I was trying to see everything that was going on, while snapping pics and taking notes. It was an amazing visit! Reply

  • Janice
    October 6, 2019 3:49pm

    There was ( I suppose still is) a Facebook page called “Save The Mimolette” that was created in response to the ban.

    They’ve been making this cheese for 400 years, I imagine if cheese mites were a problem, we would know by now! :) Reply

  • KB
    October 7, 2019 12:09am

    This Isigny cheese can be ordered and sent directly to your home in the USA, there is a seller of it on Amazon.com

    There are several places in Seattle to purchase it such as the Paris Grocery. They might even have other items from France that you have mentioned in previous postings.
    Paris Grocery
    1418 Western Ave
    Seattle, WA 98101
    206.682.0679
    Available in the Pike Place market at DeLaurenti

    It is also available north of Seattle at the Skagit Food Co-op Reply

    • Chris Moore
      October 7, 2019 9:32pm

      I LOVE Paris grocery! I found Toulouse sausage there to make Cassoulet. Thanks!! Reply

  • Christine
    October 7, 2019 1:28pm

    Another fantastic and informative article, merci David!

    I am able to find a mimolette at my local Whole Foods (I am in Cleveland, OH) so perhaps folks will be able to locate some in their area as well. Reply

  • NanR
    October 7, 2019 3:49pm

    I have purchased Mimolette at my local Costco although it’s been some time since. I bought it because you had written a piece on it. It indeed was fabulous. My mother was from Normandy and I could swear that I inherited all of the cravings one would have if living in the region!
    Thank you for such in-depth articles on all things French and otherwise. Reply

  • Christina
    October 7, 2019 5:46pm

    Thanks for another great article. My first experience with the extre-vielle mimolette was in the 70s at the Cheese Board in Berkeley, CA. I did not find it, except in France, for many years until recently in the Seattle area, in my T&C market on Bainbridge Island and at Central Market in Poulsbo, WA. It never equals the nuttiness of the older stuff, which I recently enjoyed in Normandy, but at least it is available. Reply

    • Mary Ann Hanlon
      October 8, 2019 6:24pm

      Wow! I live on Bainbridge and will have to look for it at the T&C. Reply

    • KC
      October 18, 2019 1:16am

      T&C on Bainbridge, Central Market in Poulsbo are both owned by the same family. They also own Central Market in Shoreline (north end of Seattle) and they own Ballard Market which is another Seattle neighborhood. So all of those stores do carry specialty food items and might well have this cheese. Reply

  • Janet
    October 7, 2019 5:56pm

    Some years ago, mimolette was available at what some might consider an unlikely market: Trader Joe’s. I liked it very much. Reply

  • AnneMarie
    October 7, 2019 6:41pm

    The article was very interesting but did I miss the flavor profile of this cheese? I am curious how it tastes. Reply

    • October 7, 2019 7:14pm
      David Lebovitz

      Younger mimolette cheeses are milky, creamy and slightly sweet (naturally) with a little bit of caramel tang. As the cheeses age, they get sharper and nuttier so there’s less of a milky flavor, but stronger in the sharper category. Reply

  • Marlena Freeman
    October 7, 2019 8:14pm

    Great article, David: Mimolette is available in the SF Bay Area-at Whole Amazon, the Oakville Grocery is Oakville and healdsburg and probably in Berkeley cheese shops…. I’m intrigued by the description of the young Mimolette andwould look for it except I’m fairly sure we don’t get it in the states..Ah well..one can dream…. Reply

  • Nelo Sekler
    October 7, 2019 8:41pm

    What is the secret of mimolette cheese? Is it the enzyme used? Reply

    • October 7, 2019 10:22pm
      David Lebovitz

      Part of it is the quality of the milk, as well as the enzyme use for coagulation, the ripening conditions, and – of course – the mites. Reply

  • AJV
    October 7, 2019 9:17pm

    I started seeking out Mimolette years ago when learning to make gougeres from your recipe! I have friends who become despondent if I don’t serve them at parties.. Reply

    • October 7, 2019 10:23pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s really good in gougères, isn’t it? They don’t normally use it for those in France but I made a batch last summer for friends and they were terrific. Reply

    • Margaret
      October 8, 2019 5:54am

      I add Parmesan to gougeres as well as other cheeses from David’s recipe too. Friends and family go crazy over them and always ask for the recipe. Reply

  • Chris Moore
    October 7, 2019 9:33pm

    I am a relative new comer to your blog, only about a year. Thanks so much for your attention to detail, your interest in things and your glorious pictures. Reply

  • Rose Marie
    October 8, 2019 12:44am

    Exactly what do the mites contribute to the flavor—enzymes, saliva, excrement, ‘sweat’ as they work their way through the cheese?! Reply

    • October 8, 2019 2:07am
      David Lebovitz

      Somehow they add to the flavor but also aerate the cheeses so they ripen a certain way. There’s a good article about the mites here that explains it a little more. Reply

  • Rachel
    October 8, 2019 2:29am

    Thank you for so generously sharing this with us David. Cheese is endlessly fascinating to me, as is … well, anything to do with food really. I love all your blog posts, but particularly the food or kitchenware tours. Thank you. Reply

  • Polly Levine
    October 8, 2019 2:47am

    Thank you for sharing this informative post. Pictures are beautiful, as always. Reply

  • Susan R.
    October 8, 2019 1:47pm

    Merci beaucoup for the post, David. I love cheese and “mimo” is a favorite! Reply

  • Barbie
    October 8, 2019 8:48pm

    Hi David, at a recent class at The Cheese School in SF, a fabulous goat cheese was served. Prior to this, goat cheese was very distasteful to me. The cheese was called: “Buchette Aux Fleurs” from Fromagerie Jacquin in La Vernelle, FR. Does anyone have a resouce here in the San Diego area? Reply

  • Cheryl
    October 13, 2019 1:43am

    I have found Mimolette at Whole Foods in Calif. just in time to serve to my French visitors. Reply

  • PAUL
    October 18, 2019 8:24pm

    Just tried mimolette, among 30 or 40 others, at your posts suggestion, at the Cheese Cave at Baud Millet, in Bordeaux. Magnifique! Reply

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