It's time to lift the cheesecloth from over your eyes and become aware of just what exactly you're eating next time you shovel cheese into your face. Bottom line, spiders. Or microscopic creatures that resemble teeny, tiny spiders. If you don't keep up with news on French cheese imports (and we seriously don't blame you for not doing so) you probably have no idea about the mites -- yes, MITES -- that are living on some of our favorite cheeses. These living organisms are causing the FDA to ban some of the best cheeses we get from France.
Before you pull your hair out in horror, know this: cheese would not be as good without the help of these spidery mites. If you talk to any serious cheese nerd they will tell you that cheese, like fruits and vegetables, is very much alive. The molds, bacteria, yeasts and mites make cheese what it is: delicious.
You see, mites love cheese -- much like us -- and they want to eat it too -- again, a lot like us. Lucky for them, they thrive in the damp, cool atmospheres where cheeses are stored and aged. (If only we didn't find basement-type environments so creepy.)
Cheese mites are most famously found on Mimolette (pictured above), but they're also present and responsible for the great flavor of many other cheeses, like Comte. In cases like Mimolette, their appetite is welcome because they help create the floral, earthy flavor we've come to appreciate in this cheese. But in other cheeses -- like Parmesan -- measures have to be taken to stop the mites from devouring blocks upon blocks of our beloved cheese. That's why this cheese is often oiled.
If the thought of mites on your cheese gives you vegan thoughts, don't give up dairy just yet. The FDA is fighting the mites with all their strength so you can eat cheese without tiny spiders. But if you should find yourself in a country where cheese rules (and flavor too), man up and take a bite. Every mite you eat is more than worth it for the flavor of a perfectly aged Mimolette.
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