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French cheese causes a stink at US customs

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French cheese causes a stink at US customs
File photo of a slice of mimolette cheese. Photo: Sarah Nichols
18:15 CEST+02:00
A specialty French cheese has provoked a cross-Atlantic row after US customs officials refused to allow almost a tonne of it into the country, citing concern over “allergies”.

An American blockade of mimolette, a bright orange cheese traditionally made in the northern city of Lille, has sparked a mini-furore among importers, merchants and cheese-lovers.

“We've been importing mimolette for 20 years, but since the start of March, FDA (Food and Drug Administration) inspectors have been giving us a hard time,” Benoit de Vitton from the company Isigny Saint-Mère, one of the companies affected, told AFP.

A warehouse in New Jersey now holds between 500 and 700 kg of the quarantined cheese, to the frustration of importers like de Vitton.

Mimolette – known as ‘boule de Lille’ – in France, contains mites, deliberately introduced to the grey surface of the cheese, to refine its flavour.

FDA agents have claimed that the tiny tick-like creatures could cause allergic reactions, and refused to allow the cheese to pass to its final destination at specialist cheese shops across the country.

James Coogan, the owner of the Ideal Cheese Shop in Manhattan, New York expressed his bafflement to AFP.

“The mites have always been in the cheese. It’s crazy to block it for that reason,” said Coogan.

When de Vitton pointed out this fact to a federal official, he was told simply: “The level of mites in the cheese exceeds the authorized level,” although the FDA inspector was not able to tell de Vitton what the ‘authorized level’ was.

The blockade has sparked a small-scale international row among cheese-lovers and mimolette-enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic.

A Facebook group called “Save the mimolette” was set up on April 4th, and has more than 470 followers aghast at the prospect that their beloved cheese has become a public enemy in the United States.

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