Mites are a common visitor to many a cool, damp cheese cave. Although the creatures themselves are barely visible to the naked eye, evidence of their presence is hard to miss, from the pitted and pock-marked surface of the cheese they inhabit to the thick tan dust and musky scent they leave behind on cellar surfaces. Mites are generally considered a nuisance for cheesemakers, because they will destroy natural-rind cheeses if left unchecked—especially drier and older cheeses, which seem to be their favorites.
Although many cheesemakers daily brush and wash their wheels to prevent damage from mites, there are many affineurs who believe mites can improve a cheese. In France there’s even a tradition to celebrate the evidence of cheese mites in a new aging cave because it signals that the environment is right for maturing cheese. And there are a couple of cheeses, Mimolette being the most famous, in which the activities of these little buggers are actually encouraged for both aesthetics and flavor. Although I am no fan of eating cheese mites or the dust they leave behind, there doesn’t seem to be any harm in it. In fact, according to Wisconsin cheesemaker Mary Falk, there used to be a special spoon made many years ago that was specifically designed for scooping up a pile of mites and eating them “raw”!Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Shutterstock