If there’s one thing Cheddar cheese is well known for, it’s the distinct visuals. Whenever you see bright orange slices, be it in a TikTok cooking video, in food advertisements, or even in your own sandwich, it’s got to be Cheddar, right? Right?
Hold on, not so fast. If that food Tiktoker was trying to be original, or if the ad was for a high-end establishment, it may very well be not Cheddar, but Mimolette cheese: a traditional hard French cheese from Lille, Flanders. Geography is an essential factor here because it’s what determines the Mimolette cheese’s flavor qualities: while visually, it resembles classic Cheddar cheese the most, their flavors are distinctly different.
See, Mimolette cheese was inspired by another cheese entirely: Dutch Edam cheese (also known as Edammer). During the 17th-century Franco-Dutch war (1672-1978), the trade between the countries was halted (no surprise there), with Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the French finance minister at the time, prohibiting the import of certain Dutch goods. One of those Dutch goods that were most missed was Edam cheese which was particularly popular with locals at the time.
There’s an apocryphal story of King Louis XIV issuing a special decree for Flemish cheesemakers to develop the substitute. Though, as there is no solid documented proof of the King being involved, it’s much more likely that the order came from Jean-Baptiste Colbert himself, who had the unfavorable job of ensuring the local economy kept standing, and the trade halting caused no crippling food shortages.
One of the strategies he utilized was import substitution for the most popular products, including Edam cheese. Colbert commissioned Flemish cheesemakers to make the local variant close enough to the original in flavor and texture that the Dutch cheese wouldn’t be missed. But with one caveat: the cheese had to be distinctly different visually, so there was no confusion about it being a French product.
The Flemish cheesemakers developed the Edam taste-alike but added annatto to the cheese paste to die it into dark orange, a striking difference from the pale yellow of the original.
What is Mimolette Cheese?
Mimolette cheese is a traditional hard French cheese that was allegedly created in 1675 by cheesemakers in the city of Lille as a substitute for the Dutch cheese Edam. Because of these reasons, it’s sometimes referred to as “Boule de Lille” (fr. Lille ball) or “Vieux Hollande” (fr. Old Holland).
Mimolette is made with exclusively pasteurized cow milk. Its paste remains uncooked and is given form via pressing. The milk is supposed to be full fat, but as Mimolette is not a protected cheese variety, there are no strict specific guidelines the cheesemakers need to adhere to, so the quality of the milk (and the resulting cheese) is mainly on the conscience of the cheesemakers.
Mimolette cheese can be aged anywhere between 2 months and two years. The most commonly available Mimolette variety is traditionally aged between 2 and 3 months. While aged Mimolette is not exactly hard to find, it still takes more effort than the young variety. Mimolette cheese aged between 6 to 12 months is relatively common, while Mimolette aged over 18 months may require a little more effort to find, as not every cheese shop, even a small artisanal one, will carry it.
Flavor: Mimolette has a distinct nutty and tangy taste, rather well-expressed even when the cheese is young. It sometimes has a slight fruitiness to it, but the fruity undertones are very mild. Once the cheese matures, the fruitiness becomes more well-expressed, and the nuttiness deepens, creating a more complex and piquant flavor profile.
Texture: Mimolette is a hard cheese with a smooth, buttery, but dense and chewy texture. Somewhat ironically, its name comes from the French “mi-mou,” meaning “semi-soft” - a direct reference to the overall velvety touch of the cheese texture despite its firmness.
Mimolette hardens rather quickly, so even the young, 2-month-old cheese is supposed to be solid to the touch, not changing shape much when squeezed. However, the more Mimolette ages, the more it tends to lose this signature butteriness. As with most other hard cheese varieties, its texture becomes more crumbly and grainy the more mature it becomes, with a Mimolette aged for 18-24 months rather closely resembling Parmesan.
In contrast to the smooth insides, it has an irregular natural rind, dotted with small holes, that’s rough to the touch. The rind is notoriously thick and hard to crack.
Color: Mimolette rind color can range anywhere from pale orange to light brown to greyish brown (the more the cheese matures, the darker and firmer its outer rind). The Mimolette cheese paste is bright orange (similar to Cheddar cheese, though usually of a deeper, more vibrant reddish shade) due to the addition of annatto. As Mimolette ages, the cheese shade may turn darker.
Its round form, pale rough rind, and intense orange color have often drawn comparisons to a melon, particularly a cantaloupe.
Aroma: Mimolette cheese has a very mild smell. In this case, it’s similar to the Edam cheese it was modeled after. If you bring a slice closer to your nose, you may catch a whiff of fruity and earthy notes, but they’ll be relatively weak. The more the cheese ages, the stronger those earthy notes become, but it’s never going to have the strong, distinct aroma of cheese like Camembert, Taleggio, or Parmesan (unless it becomes spoiled.
How is Mimolette Cheese Made?
The process of making Mimolette starts as with most other cheese: the milk (in this case pasteurized cow milk) is mixed with lactic bacteria and rennet, as well as some annatto to give it its bright orange hue, and left alone until the milk curdles. The curds are then cut into tiny pieces and rested in warm water.
This process classifies Mimolette as a washed-curd cheese. Curd washing (sometimes called curd rinsing) is the practice of draining some of the whey and replacing it with warm water for the cheese curds to soak in before placing them into the molds and leaving them to age. Less whey means less lactose to convert into lactic acid, so the process is supposed to render a cheese with a sweeter taste and more buttery texture.
Once the curds are well-steeped, they’re placed into molds and brined in a salt bath that lasts about three days. The salt bath helps draw out the excess moisture and amplifies the flavor.
After the salt bath, the cheese is put on racks and wheeled into the special facility that will be its home for the foreseeable future: the ripening cave with wooden shelves that absorb some of the moisture left and allow air to flow freely around the cheese.
And herein comes the most controversial aspect of Mimolette-making. See, unlike with the Dutch original, Flemish cheesemakers fell back onto the tried and tested French method of giving the cheese its nutty and tangy taste: cheese mites.
The French have used these microscopic mites in cheesemaking since the Middle Ages (the list of traditional French “mite cheese” includes Comté, Tomme de Savoie, and Cantal). They usually dwell in the soil and feed on fungi. So when placed in a cheesemaking or maturation facility, they go gaga for the mold. They’re placed on the surface of the cheese and attack the outer layer, leaving behind flavorful dust that gives Mimolette cheese its distinct flavor and creating its thick rind in the process.
Proper regulation and care for mite colonies in the cave is an essential part of Mimolette production, as otherwise, the cheese won’t mature correctly.
Fun fact: the need for a specific amount of cheese mites required for the proper production process got Mimolette cheese into hot water with the FDA for a little while.
Did You Know: Mimolette Cheese was Banned in the USA (Yes, Really)
Back in 2013, FDA started feeling a little iffy about the number of cheese mites they found in Mimolette’s thick rind.
It’s not like FDA had problems with cheese mites themselves. Plenty of mite-made cheese varieties were imported into the country by that point, including British Stilton, some Cheddar varieties, and France’s own Comté cheese.
But the Mimolette had way too many for their liking. That high number was just unreasonable, right? So the FDA went ahead and banned Mimolette cheese import into the US.
Luckily, they got over their suspicions pretty fast. Just a year later, in 2014, the ban on Mimolette import was lifted. Now the cheese can be found in many specialty shops with relative ease, so there’s no need for a devoted epicure to fly to France if they wish to give it a taste.
The Types of Mimolette Cheese:
Mimolette cheese is roughly divided into four different types according to the aging process, varying from young and fresh to fully aged and old.
Mimolette Jeune is a Mimolette cheese aged for at least 3 but less than 6 months. At this stage, the cheese is still considered young and maintains the signature nutty flavor with a smooth yet chewy texture.
Mimolette Demi-Vielle (fr. “half old”) is the Mimolette aged between 6 and 12 months. It’s the brightest orange at this point, with a firmer texture that becomes slightly oily. At this stage, the fruity undertones become more pronounced, and the cheese starts to develop a piquant flavor.
Mimolette Vielle (fr. “old”) or Vielle en Étuvée is the Mimolette aged between 12 and 18 months. The color starts to become darker, more reddish than bright orange. The cheese becomes very fruity but maintains the signature nuttiness, resulting in a very piquant and complex flavor profile. The texture starts becoming more grainy and crumbly, losing its smoothness.
Mimolette Tres Vielle (fr. “very old”) is the Mimolette cheese aged between 18 and 24 months. The color of the paste is the darkest at this stage. The texture becomes crumbly, grainy, and - the detractors claim - uncomfortably oily. Very Old Mimolette starts to resemble Parmesan in texture and flavor closer than it resembles the young, 2-3 old Mimolette.
Mimolette Vielle Cassante or Vieux Cassante is sometimes used to distinguish Mimolette at the very end of the aging process, between 21 and 24 months. The rind becomes very hard at this stage, and cracking the cheese is somewhat complicated. The texture loses the chewiness and becomes brittle and breakable. The flavor is very complex and piquant, with a very robust, a bit pungent, salty, and nutty notes. This type of Mimolette cheese is also sometimes marked as Mimolette Grande Reserve.
Interestingly, these terms are typically used for cheese packaged for domestic consumption. If Mimolette is being packaged for export, it’s rather likely that the manufacturer will skip denominators like “Jeune,” “Vielle,” and “Cassante” and indicate the stage of Mimolette maturation with simply the number of months it was aged for.
Notably, while many traditional European cheese varieties can be aged for over two years, in the Mimolette production process, it’s considered the final acceptable stage. If, by some accident, Mimolette cheese is aged for longer, it’s going to be deemed unfit for consumption and discarded.
What Is Mimolette Cheese Used For:
Typical “young” Mimolette aged for 2-3 months is traditionally considered a “starter” cheese in the sense that its mild but distinct flavor, smooth texture, and nigh nonexistent aroma are so inoffensive that it can fit all tastes, from young children (who’ll enjoy the chewy texture and mild flavor) to cheese connoisseurs (who’ll appreciate the signature combination of nuttiness and tang).
For this reason, Mimolette is most often served raw, in slices, or cubed.
It’s considered a perfect addition for cheese and charcuterie boards, an option that “won’t leave anyone behind.” Its flavor pairs well with sweet fruits, chocolate, and light, bright wines.
On the flip side, young Mimolette is so mild that its flavor can easily be overwhelmed in a more complex dish. For this reason, if one is cooking with Mimolette, they choose to go with Mimolette Demi-Vielle, aged 6 months and up, at least. This type of Mimolette is liberally used in sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads, etc., both sliced and grated.
Mimolette Tres Vielle or Vielle Cassante is used similarly to Parmesan, prized for its complex piquant flavor, and used to augment the dish’s flavor profile rather than as the main ingredient. Due to its hard texture, it’s usually shaved over the dish and paired with robustly flavored ingredients (meat dishes, pizza, pasta, and salads are common choices).