On the Cheese Board

Published April 6, 2005


Don't let the strong, unpleasant aroma of this French cow's milk cheese put you off. Morbier's bark is definitely worse than its bite.

In fact, this semisoft cheese is buttery, rich and quite simple at first taste. It finishes with a distinguishing bitter kick.

Morbier is a good choice for a cheese platter both for easy cutting, distinct appearance and interesting history. Serve it with plain, rather than flavored, crackers.

Morbier was made in the Dark Ages by monks at the Monastery of Morbier, in the Franche-Comte region of eastern France. The monastery is gone but cheese is still made in this region.

There are many cheeses that have an ash covering, but Morbier may be the only one with a stripe (sometimes faint) running through it. In the early days, a layer of ash was placed on the morning curds to prevent mold. The evening curds were placed over the top.

The squeamish need not worry, today the stripe is often made of flavorless plant material not ash. Traditionalists, however, lament the synthetic substitution.

Fruity Beaujolais nicely brightens Morbier's seriousness. Other good pairings contrast crispness with the fatty, creamy texture of the cheese: dry chenin blanc or tangy muscadet, the "yellow" wines of Jura, sharp Alsatians or the crisp sauvignon blancs of Sancerre.

Morbier is available at specialty shops and some larger grocery stores for about $10 a pound.