After a three-month blockade of more than a tonne of imported mimolette cheese at warehouses throughout the US, officials have caused disbelief by finally implementing an effective ban on the French specialty, calling it “putrid” and “unfit for food.”
A ‘charge statement’ from the Food and Drug Administration in the US claims: “The article appears to consist in whole or in part of a filthy, putrid, or decomposed substance or be otherwise unfit for food.”
The furore revolves around the use of microscopic mites, deliberately introduced to the grey surface of the cheese, to refine its flavour.
FDA agents had claimed that the tiny tick-like creatures could cause allergic reactions, and in March refused to allow the cheese to pass to its final destination at specialist cheese shops across the United States.
Now, it seems, the US regulator is insisting that any future imports of mimolette have no more than six mites per square inch in the crust, a demand that French cheesemakers claim would be impossible to meet.
Speaking to French television BFMTV from New York earlier this week, however, French Junior Minister for the Food Industry Guillaume Garot, suggested mimolette-makers would have no choice in the matter.
“Our only concern is to work with French [cheese-makers] towards a new production process for aged mimolette destined for export,” he said.
“We can’t give a date [for than innovation], but they are very far along on that front,” he added.
The blockade, and subsequent ban, has provoked an unexpected backlash, especially from US-based lovers of mimolette, a bright orange-coloured cheese also known as 'boule de Lille.'
With almost 3,000 likes to date, a Facebook page entitled “Save the mimolette” has posted a series of increasingly forlorn alerts in recent weeks, as supermarkets and cheese specialists across the US have started running out of their existing stocks of the cheese.
An editorial in the Washington Times newspaper described the FDA’s stance on mimolette as a “misbegotten war on microscopic bugs,” and denounced what it called the “food nannies” behind the blockade.
In April, dozens of mimolette-enthusiasts took to the streets in New York to protest against the US government’s sudden opposition to the delicacy.
"They are afraid of allergies," said Benoit de Vitton, an importer of the cheese. "But we've been doing this for 20 years without any problem."