Produced around the town of Lille, in the Flanders area of Pas-de-Calais, northern France, Mimolette is an aged, raw cow's milk cheese.
Sometimes referred to as Boule de Lille, presumably for its distinctive, spherical shape, the production of Mimolette has many similarities to that of Dutch Edam. The origins of this cheese are subject to debate, as some say that the recipe came from the Netherlands, while others claim it was always made in France.
Either way, the truth probably rests with an episode, during the 17th century, when France was importing a considerable amount of cheese, especially from the Netherlands. The French minister, Colbert, put a stop to any foreign cheese imports and so the inhabitants of northern France started producing their own versions of some of the Dutch cheeses - hence Mimolette. In classic European tradition, Mimolette was only officially recognized in 1935 under a treaty between France and Holland.
Apart from its distinctive shape, Mimolette's other striking feature is its bright orange color, a result of the use of annato during production. Annatto, which is derived from the seeds of a South American shrub, is a natural food coloring frequently used to give cheeses an orange color. In the case of Mimolette, it is particularly bright.
Production can be cooperative or industrial, and Mimolette is sold at varying stages of maturity, although the Extra Veille (Extra Aged) cheeses are distinctly different from the younger versions. The minimum maturation is six weeks, at which time the cheeses are still very moist and have not had time to develop much flavor. At the other end of the spectrum, cheeses can be matured for up to 24 months.
At this stage, the exterior rind is dark tan in color and usually extremely pitted and marked. It is not uncommon to see a coating of brown dust on the outside, which is a sign of age and the action of cheese mites on the rind. The rind itself will be very dense and hard and often extends up to half an inch into the paste of the cheese. Although edible, the rind does not taste appealing.
The interior paste of the cheese is very dense, hard and smooth, with occasional small "eyes," or holes. Flavors are of bacon, caramel, butterscotch and toasted nuts, with an underlying sweetness that is not cloying.
Mimolette Extra Veille pairs extremely well with either dessert wines or lighter reds such as Rhones or Pinot Noirs.