You might think of a blue cheese when you see the picture above but it’s not one of those. The distinctive black line running through the pâte is just decoration nowadays but it used to be a necessity in former times. During winter, the farmers in Franche-Comté didn’t get enough milk out of their herd for a full mould of cheese, so they split the production into two phases: with the curd of the morning milk they filled half the mould – and covered it with soot to avoid oxidation and to keep flies and other insects away. After the second milking in the evening, they filled up the rest of the mould to get an entire
Here it is: a mild, charming cheese weighing 5 to 9 kilograms, 6 to 8 cm high with a diameter of 30 to 40 cm. It shows a orangeish rind and the black line, of course, but the latter is no longer soot but a vegetable product that the cheese-makers use to keep their product easily recognizable.
Morbier wasn’t a cheese to be sold. In the 19th century, the farmers – and especially those higher up in the mountains – kept it as their winter ration. Today, it is quite popular, production figures rose steeply since this cheese obtained an AOC in 2000, around 9000 tons go to the markets every year, delivered by 40 or so producers and two artisanal farm-house workshops. The AOC region contains the French Jura and large parts of the departments of Doubs, Saône-et-Loire and Ain. The cow breeds used are Montbéliarde and Simmental, the cheese is made of raw milk, what else?
The official Morbier website has it that the cheese was first mentioned in 1795 but it was sold under the name Morbier not before the end of the 19th century. If you asked me, I’d say that I like it without being too passionate about it. It’s a good cheese, no doubt, but it lacks a bit of real character, of edge. It’s a cheese for breakfast and for children, I’d say, and that’s not bad after all. Light white wines make its natural companion (or, for breakfast, some black tea).
Here’s a short commercial video featuring a cheese vendor explaining his Morbier.