There once was a clever man called Jean-Baptiste Colbert, who thought long and hard about his country, which was France, and about its wealth and treasure. And he realised that if its wealth and treasure went across the border into another country, then it would no longer be in France. At this time, during the reign of Louis XIV, the greatest risk of this happening came not from raiding invaders but from innocent traders, who would buy goods from abroad and pay for them with good French coin.

Some of the precious wealth of France went north, to the infidel Kingdom of the Netherlands. One of the more successful of the heretics' sneaky stratagems to get their hands on good Catholic gold was Edam cheese, which had been an export hit since the 14th Century. This perfidious cheese aged well, kept well, and travelled well, and the Dutch sold it more or less everywhere they went. Which was more or less everywhere. Including France.

The path to Gallic prosperity was clear, and the import of Edam was prohibited. This was an earlier, gentler age, and the good citizens of the France did not react as they would now to any attack on their cheese-eating habits: no paint was thrown, no dung unloaded in front of town halls, no tractors were parked on the motorways. For obvious reasons, in the last case. And for those same reasons, much of the country would not have noticed the loss: transport was difficult, once away from the coast.

But they rather liked Edam in the north. Particularly in Lille. So someone started making their own. (Sometimes it is claimed that this was the King's idea.) And they put orange food colouring in it, so no-one would mistake it for contraband Edam. (And some claim this was the King's idea, too.) And they left it to mature in a cellar.

There is a reason why cheeses are often named after places. If you make the same cheese in two different places, the result is usually two different cheeses. (Unless you are making industrial cheddar, which is arguably not cheese at all.) In this case it was not only geography that made the difference: the cellar in which the cheese was ripened was infested with cheese mites. So the result was not French Edam, but a new cheese. Given that it originally came from Lille it is sometimes still called 'boule de Lille.' A name that makes sense given that it is made, like Edam, in the form of slightly flattened balls. When young it is fairly soft, but not very soft, so it was described as 'half soft', 'mi-mollet,' and that gave it its usual name: 'mimolette.'

When young it is not so very different from Edam. But that is true of many nondescript cheeses, and it is not so very different from young Gouda, either. But as it matures its flavour becomes nuttier, and moves further away from Edam, as the different bacteria and the cheese mites on its surface do their work. It is usually eaten at between 12 and eighteen months of age, after it has stopped being boring and before it has turned into moon-rock.

These days mimolette is made industrially and the cheese mites are introduced to it deliberately. Some is made in the Netherlands, where they use carrot juice for the colouring instead of extracts of exotic South-American trees. Judging by the pictures I have found of the Dutch version, they don't let it ripen for long enough either. (And their tomatoes taste of water, as well.)

Mimolette is recommended any time you want a cheese with character and flavour that won't take the roof of your mouth off. So more or less any time. It goes well with red wine, white wine and beer (the wines preferably fruity, the beer preferably less so). Also with vodka, whisky, cognac and armagnac. It was Charles de Gaulle's favourite cheese. And you can be sure that wasn't for lack of choice.

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