The ancient craft of cheese-making holds many surprises when it comes to methods that shape the flavors and textures of different varieties. 

One intriguing tradition involves deliberately introducing mites to the cheese — which contributes to its distinct characteristics. 

Despite the initial surprise, the practice of using mites in cheeses has been an integral part of the cultural and culinary traditions associated with these cheeses for generations.

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Here’s a deep dive into the details of this age-old practice.

What cheese is cured by mites?

Two well-known cheeses that undergo a process involving mites are Mimolette and Milbenkäse.

Mimolette

Hailing from France, particularly the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, Mimolette is initially coated with edible annatto to give it an orange hue. 

It undergoes a lengthy aging process when cheese mites are intentionally introduced. 

The mites consume the outer layer, creating unique pits and cracks. This process contributes to the cheese’s distinct flavor, featuring nutty and savory notes, along with a crumbly texture.

Milbenkäse

Originated in Germany, Milbenkäse is crafted by applying a layer of rye flour to the cheese, creating an environment suitable for the growth of cheese mites. Over time, these mites consume both the rye flour and the cheese’s surface. 

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The outcome is a cheese with a porous texture and a distinctive flavor.

Are cheese mites safe to eat?

Yes, it’s generally safe to eat cheese that has been cured with mites. 

In traditional cheese-making practices, such as with Mimolette and Milbenkäse, cheese mites are intentionally introduced during the aging process. These tiny creatures contribute to the unique characteristics of the cheese, such as flavor and texture.

The mites themselves are microscopic and don’t pose any harm to humans when consumed. 

They are considered a natural part of the cheese-making process for these specific types of cheeses. 

Are cheese mites banned in the United States?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily banned Mimolette cheese in March 2013. 

The FDA said inspectors found more than the permissible six mites per square inch crawling on the rinds — which raised health concerns. 

However, after working to address these concerns and meet the FDA’s standards, Mimolette was reintroduced in the U.S. 

Do all cheeses have mites?

No, not all cheeses have mites.

Many other types of cheeses are produced without the use of mites, and their characteristics are shaped by different methods such as fermentation, salting and aging. 

If you have particular preferences or concerns about mites in cheese, it’s recommended you check the specifics of the cheese you’re interested in for more information.

From the nutty and crumbly Mimolette in France to the porous and flavorful Milbenkäse in Germany, these cheeses showcase the relationship between mites and microbes, resulting in a unique culinary experience. 

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