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Jan 17, 2014

Mug Shot: Maroilles

THE STORY:

Our French friends are very French. This means that when I am over at my friend Béatrice's house for breakfast, she offers me coffee or hot chocolate in a bowl. Since I'm not really a coffee or hot chocolate drinker, she instead serves me tea. In a bowl. This is actually photo-worthy to me, which hugely entertains Béatrice and her family.


Ironically, our French friends don't seem to eat cereal out of bowls. For that, they use enormous mugs that are virtually bowl-sized. This is why when we first move in our fully furnished apartment, we almost immediately have to go out and buy bowls; the two large mugs in the apartment just won't do for our family of four breakfast cereal eaters. And everybody has espresso cups, since when you ask for a café, what you're really ordering is a tiny espresso.
 
THE CHEESE: Maroilles
 
Maroilles -- pronounced "Mar-wall" -- is a cheese from the very northern tip of France than can either be made from raw or pasteurized cow's milk. In our case, it's raw. Very raw. It's aged between two weeks and five months, which is really such a wildly large spectrum, I'm not sure why they bother to tell me the affinage period at all.
 

Maroilles, which received its AOC status in 1955, comes in a square about 9cm-13cm (3-5 in) on each side. Ours is on the bigger side at 4.5 in per side. I only buy a quarter of it, and thank goodness, because it's not my favorite. It's very, very pungent, with a distinct bitter-acid tang that really drives home the fact that cheese is simply rotted milk. Three members of our family of four taste a bit, and I am planning on giving away the rest of the chunk to friends. To be clear: I can eat it. But I don't want to. I thought I liked stinky cheese, but this one sort of defeats me.

The reddish rind is not from marc, the usual culprit in turning cheese orange, but rather from the bacteria that help develop the moldy crust.

 
THE CONNECTION:
 
The lady who sells me this cheese in the Pascal Beillevaire tells me that in the northern tip of France where this cheese is produced, the locals like to dip slices of Maroilles into their coffee for breakfast. Not doughnuts, not croissants, not cookies: stinky cheese. I haven't tried this, and given that I don't like coffee,  nor particularly the cheese, I'm not likely to. Nor am I likely to try it dipped in my tea, my hot milk, or my orange juice.
 
 
OK. Having just written that paragraph, I suddenly realize I will never forgive myself if I don't taste it. Here goes nothing...
 
 
 
I have all sorts of snarky comments prepared in my head about how this will be the worst food combination I have ever tried. But surprisingly, it's not all that bad. The nice thing about dipping the cheese slice in is that it's warm and gooey when I put it in my mouth. Anthony tries, too, and agrees, that it actually does something nice to the temperature and texture. And the fact that it's a cheese with a bitter stink to it means that the addition of a bit of bitter coffee doesn't really make a big difference in the taste. Now, granted, I taste this with black coffee, and since, as I said, I don't like coffee, I don't go back and finish my cup. So I can't tell you if I've left traces of Maroilles in the coffee. And make no mistake: I'm not saying I love this, but if you get hold of some Maroilles and want to try something authentically French-near-the-Belgian-border, it's worth a taste and is not as disgusting as you expect (high praise, indeed, I know).

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