Welcome Back, Mimolette

Mimolette

After an absence of more than a year, the pumpkin-hued Mimolette is back. I spotted it at Bay Area cheese counters at holiday time—with that screaming orange interior, you can’t miss it—and retailers told me it was selling briskly. But they couldn’t explain why the FDA had apparently softened its stand on this dangerous import.

Just to review: Mimolette disappeared from the market in mid-2013 when the FDA began objecting to mites on the rind. These microscopic critters have inhabited Mimolette rinds for centuries. French cheesemakers consider them part of the recipe. As the mites burrow into the crusty surface, they create the tiny craters that make Mimolette’s rind resemble a moonscape. This aeration helps mature the cheese and produce its sweet, earthy flavor.

Cheese mites aren’t unique to Mimolette. Most creameries that produce aged cheeses with hard natural rinds have a mite issue. And while most cheesemakers consider them pesky and will brush or wash the wheels to foil them, Mimolette producers encourage them.

Mimolette’s troubles began when the FDA designated cheese mites an allergen. The agency began demanding that importers destroy wheels with more than six surface mites per square inch, a standard that effectively barred aged Mimolette. No exporter wanted to risk shipping wheels that might have to be destroyed. Never mind that milk is an allergen; mold is an allergen; dog dander is an allergen. (Just ask me.) What is the acceptable limit for dog dander in a public space?

I wanted to know what had happened to make Mimolette safe again, so I e-mailed the U.S. representative for Isigny, the French producer. “I am so very sorry but we would rather not share any information about this topic,” she replied. Now that’s helpful.

I brought home a wedge of one-year-old Mimolette and viewed it under a hand lens. (If you’re squeamish, don’t do this.) In years past, Mimolette’s little hobbit holes were alive with gainfully employed residents. This time, I found only a few mites, and it took some searching. I suspect that the producer is suctioning out the mites on wheels destined for the U.S.

Isigny is currently sending us 12-month and 18-month Mimolette. I suppose we should be grateful, although we used to get 24- to 30-month-old wheels, which had more butterscotch aroma. Perhaps super-aged Mimolette is now a thing of the past, at least until we conquer our allergies.

Look for Mimolette at these retailers.

Heartbreak Cheese

 Seana Doughty

Seana Doughty

Maybe you’ve seen the troubling signs at cheese counters announcing a voluntary recall of all products from Bleating Heart Cheese, the young West Marin creamery specializing in raw-milk sheep cheese. FDA tests detected Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogen, in some samples last fall and in the facility. Mysteriously, the three samples the FDA tested in September had also been tested by the creamery’s third-party lab, with no listeria detected. The FDA did not notify the creamery until mid-December—another mystery—so a lot of Bleating Heart cheese had already entered the marketplace, been sold and consumed. No illnesses have been reported.

Obviously, this is every cheesemaker’s worst nightmare and a crisis for this new business. Cheesemaker Seana Doughty had already won several major awards for her cheeses and a lot of acclaim. Personally, I don’t view this incident as a sign that the creamery was lax or cavalier about sanitation, and I hope consumers won’t. Cheesemaking is not a sterile business. (You have to wonder how much Listeria inspectors would find if they swabbed home kitchens.) Doughty has instituted some more stringent procedures and vowed to bounce back, and I’m hoping we’ll soon be enjoying her exceptional cheeses again.