The Cheesemonger: You Mite Like to Know
Here’s some information for the individuals among us cheese lovers who may be interested in an odd, little-known fact about some cheeses. Craggy, rough rinds aren’t only a sign of years of aging, they can also signify the presence of something else, not necessarily appreciated by the weak at heart. Let’s just put it this way: You’re not the only being who’s attracted to cheese…
Yes, those dusty edges on your favorite hard cheese provide a stable home for one of nature’s least liked creature: cheese mites. Before you lose your lunch, take a moment to expel your prejudice before it prevents you from feasting on some of your favorite cheeses.
First of all, what are cheese mites and what do they do? The humble cheese mite belongs to the family of other popular species, such as lice and ticks. Yet these mites are of a finer pedigree than their more unrefined cousins. They find sanctuary nestling in the folds of certain famous cheeses (as opposed to human skin). They burrow in the rind, delighting in life’s lactic pleasures, and when their short lives end after two long weeks, they leave behind a skeleton of flavor-filled dust. This dust is highly coveted among cheesemakers in the know–in fact, cheese mites are a sign of proper age and elevage.
Mimolette, that hearty orange cow’s milk cheese from France (pictured above), is missing a key ingredient without that famous mite dust. If you find the thought of a colony of mites running around the rind of your favorite hard cheese as unappetizing as it sounds, take comfort in the fact that the mites are long gone before you’ll ever snack on them. In fact, the presence of that famous mite dust is a sign that a cheese is made by hand, without any of the industrial sabotage that removes precious flavor and personality from many of our favorite cheeses.
The cheese mite, in this light, appears the humble stalwart, standing bravely in the face of industrialization, calmly telling mass-produced impostors to back off as they slowly work to add complexity and nuance to continue their noble work of helping milk’s great leap towards immortality.