Let’s talk about one of the cutest little hard cheeses, Mimolette.
Its name is adorable. (It’s pronounced “Mee-moh-let.”)
It’s a little round ball; weighing around seven to eight pounds and measuring about seven to eight inches in diameter, Mimolette is fairly light as hard cheeses go. It kind of looks like a cantaloupe—or like a little pumpkin.
Mimolette, which was created by the French while they were at war with the Spanish-held Netherlands (and therefore couldn’t get real Dutch cheese), is an Edam-style cheese that is colored orange with annatto, which the Europeans were pretty excited about during their early colonial journeys to South America. Mimolette’s rind looks like it might as well be the surface of Mars: it is jagged with nooks and crannies, and bears a reddish-orange color.
Despite the fact that Mimolette’s rind is so peculiar thanks to it being riddled with little munching cheese mites, as I discussed a few posts ago, the French Edam is a pretty unassuming little cutie-pie.
But this cutie-patootie is also a deadly monster. Maybe not deadly, but it can be dangerous.
Not only is the rind of an aged Mimolette a hard, crusty wasteland, it can be incredibly difficult to crack into—especially if you don’t know what you are doing.
That was me a few years ago, when we got in my very first shipment of Mimolette. The solid orange balls perplexed me. You couldn’t just cut them with a wire; the wire would snap in seconds, leaving nary a mark on the cursed rind.
So, my boss at the time informed me, I should use the Stiletto we use for cutting Parmigiano Reggiano—that’s the pointy, dagger-like tool we use to pierce the parm’s hard rind—to get into the rind of the Mimolette. Then, I should lay the cheese ball on the cheese cutter, use the Stiletto to thread the wire into the ball, remove the Stiletto as soon as the wire bit through the rind, pull the wire all the way through the wheel, and voilá.
He made it look so easy that I thought, “but of course!”
Then, I had to cut a Mimolette for the first time one day when he wasn’t there. I did everything according to the directions I had been given, but as soon as I laid the cheese onto the cutter and pulled the wire into it, using my hand to steady the cheese, that darned ball rolled under the tension of the wire.
In this split second, the Stiletto rolled with the cheese and as it went, the sharp corner of the Stiletto sliced into the soft webbing connecting my thumb to the rest of the hand. I had essentially been stabbed by a cheese.
And so I vowed to never cut Mimolette again.
Of course, that’s not an option when you are a cheesemonger and Mimolette is so good. I had to get over my fear, and just kept cutting the cheese the way I had been taught. Then, when I moved to a new store, I witnessed my new colleagues using a hot knife to score the outside of the Mimolette before dragging the wire through the ball. Genius!
My new boss even used a chef’s knife to cut the whole ball in half. Not safe, but effective. I also saw her use the two-handled knife to hack a Mimolette in half once.
But, I asked one time, is there a “real” way to cut Mimolette—a traditional way?
Indeed, there is.
And, believe it or not, it’s the same way we cut an 80-pound wheel of Reggiano.
You use the Stiletto and two paddles to crack the wheel and break it in half. The cut isn’t as clean as you get using a wire, but the rugged texture is kind of fun—especially if you cut the rest of the wheel into pieces using the wire.
There are a lot of cheeses that are pretty dangerous to cut, whether or not you know what you’re doing. You can drop a heavy wheel on the counter and crush your fingers; a wire can snap and cut your arms or face; a heavy wheel can roll off of a cutting board as it opens up, crushing your hands or feet.
While scoring a hard rind, the knife or scoring tool can slip and cut you. You can slam your knuckles on the counter.
The possibilities for bodily harm are many.
So it’s probably no surprise that the tiny, cute, unassuming Mimolette can wreak such havoc on an unsuspecting victim.
Luckily there are older generations of mongers out there happy to teach the newbies the correct way of doing things. Not only do these wise souls spare their charges a flesh wound, but the cheese is also spared the trauma of being abused on its way to somebody’s stomach.
After all, you’ve got to respect the cheese. Always.
I’m glad someone taught me the proper way to crack a wheel of Mimolette. Now customers don’t have to watch me struggle and huff and puff and turn red as I try to get them the small piece of Mimolette they ordered. Plus there’s no danger of me chopping off a finger in the name of cheese. Everyone is better off.
You can even watch me cut a wheel of Mimolette correctly for the first time ever—first the crack, then the wire. Fun!