Mimolette Cheese, It’s Illegal, Not Immoral, And It Might Make You Fat

“Everything in life that’s any fun, as somebody* wisely observed, is either immoral, illegal or fattening.”

P.G. Wodehouse, The Theatre Omnibus

It’s an in-your-face luminous orange-red, same-colour-range-as-Campari cheese.

Why is it so very orange?

The colour comes from annatto, a natural substance derived from the seeds of a Latin American plant. Originally from The Netherlands, later in the seventeenth century the French began to make it too (probably due to a law being passed which prevented them from importing it) – and Lille is now the centre of the Mimolette cheese making industry.

Follow this link to find out more about annatto.

Why is it illegal (well… only in the States) when it started out so legal?

It all began with the French king, Louis XIV. He loved edam, but unfortunately he was at war with the Spanish, who controlled The Netherlands, and his Minister of Finance, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, wasn’t keen on Dutch imports. The solution was to try to make a version of edam in France. Mimolette (in my view a great deal superior) was the result.

More recently, in the USA, it’s the mites that make this cheese illegal. But there’s nothing for it, they are the reason is has its caramelly, toasted-nutty, thoroughly wonderful, distinctive taste. In addition the mites on Mimolette contribute their own smell (a bit ‘earthy’ apparently), and by eating into the rind they also increase aeration as well as the surface area available for other beneficial microbes.

The hard-working mites munch away at the rind and are then brushed briskly off before it’s put up for sale, but not before it has developed a pitted moon-like surface complete with craters. However the mites are microscopic and since the American Food and Drug Administration insists on a maximum of six mites per square inch this lovely cheese is now illegal in the US.

mimolette cheese
The rind of the mimolette cheese – like a moonscape including craters.

How old should it be? It’s best eaten crusty and crumbly

The cheese is by far the best when it is mature, at least a year old (when it is called vielle en étuvée). Two year old Mimolette qualifies as très vielle.

mimolette cheese
It gets very hard – a machete might come in handy


How big is it?

The Mimolette cheese is a near sphere, 20cm in diameter and it weighs somewhere between 4-5 kg (somewhere between 9-11 lbs) – it takes a bit of eating – this one is now reduced to its last few slivers after six months (it keeps well!) including enthusiastic help from visiting weekend marauders. It’s a hard cheese, and it gets harder the longer you keep it, so you will need a serious knife to cut it.

Why might it make you fat? You’d have to be determined….

It has a fat content of about 40%… so, like everything, if you eat too much of it, it might make you fat, although it’s not a particular villain in comparison to other cheeses.

So, illegal in some countries, too much would make you fat, but aside from its rude orange colour, there is really nothing immoral to say about it.

Mimolette is easily available all over France, and in the UK at Teddington Cheese.

Alternative to Mimolette

If you can’t get Mimolette, aged (two year old) Gouda is not a bad alternative. Both are excellent eaten with black charcoal hearts.

If you are looking for a British alternative to Mimolette, you could try Old Winchester, made by Lyburn cheesemakers. This cheese has “the sweetness and crystallisation of Gouda, a nuttiness and textural snap of Cheddar and a faint, smoky whiff of Parmesan about it.”

Old Winchester…a good alternative, not quite so caramelly as Mimolette

Music to read to

*The originator of the quote was the American journalist Alexander Woollcott, who said, “All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening.”

You might also like…

To learn about other specialist cheeses.

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I just bought it in a store by me in the US. It’s only aged 6 months but it’s delicious. The brand is Isigny Ste. Mère.

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