In the Washington suburb of Arlington, cheese shop owner Jill Erber is leading a desperate crusade to convince US authorities not to ban one of her products over the tiny mites that live on its rind.
The sign behind the counter at Cheesetique, Erber’s store and wine bar where more than 200 kinds of cheese are on offer, says it all: “Save the mimolette.”
In just a few weeks, “we probably won’t be able to get mimolette from our distributors any longer,” Erber told AFP.
The US fate of the bright-orange, mild-tasting French cheese has been in jeopardy for months and the Food and Drug Administration has blocked all further imports.
Why? Because US regulators determined the cantaloupe-like rind of the cheese was covered with too many cheese mites, even though the tiny bugs give mimolette its unique flavor.
No formal ban has been put in place, but 1.5 tonnes (3,300 pounds) of cheese were blocked from being imported, and nothing is going through US customs.
Benoit de Vitton of French import company Isigny says those 1.5 tonnes were eventually destroyed.
Result: stocks of mimolette are quickly disappearing, and cheese enthusiasts are wringing their hands.
Erber has taken to Facebook and Twitter to defend the cause of mimolette, which she describes as more subtle than gouda, with a texture that “has a chewy and creamy quality which is really cool.”
“I love any opportunity to argue with silly regulations,” she said.
“Try some mimolette and taste the controversy,” says a small sign near a plate of bits of the cheese for patrons to taste — hopefully leading to a sale.
In the restaurant section of Cheesetique, menus inform diners about the FDA decision, noting that mimolette has been “the National Cheese of France since King Louis XIV.”
Controversy apparently sells. Erber has been able to sell seven to nine pounds of mimolette a week since the FDA move. Previously she sold perhaps a pound in the same timeframe. At $30 a pound, mimolette doesn’t come cheap.
Liz Elliott-Kimmel, a retiree lunching at Cheesetique, tried mimolette for the first time during a recent visit.
“It’s got a nice taste, it’s an excellent cheese,” she said.
For teacher Robert Stone, the FDA move makes no sense.
“I think it’s silly because it’s obviously a safe cheese,” Stone told AFP. “People have been eating it for hundreds of years.”
Cecile Delarue — a journalist who started the Facebook page “Save the Mimolette” — says she has come up empty-handed in her search for the cheese in Los Angeles.
On her page, aficionados share how to have the cheese delivered from hundreds of miles away.
One man said he is storing some in his cellar for his grandchildren to enjoy one day. Still others call on their friends to bring back morsels of the cheese from France.
In Arlington, Erber is planning a “consume the last piece of mimolette party” at Cheesetique. She has set up a sort of “shrine” for the last bite.