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What Are Cheese Mites?

closeup of the rind of mimolette cheese
What are cheese mites? Can I eat them?
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”!

Feature Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Richard Sutton

Richard Sutton quit the world of banking in 2001 and, armed with a lifelong love of cheese, moved to London and managed Paxton & Whitfield, a 200-year-old cheese shop on Jermyn Street. In 2006 he and his wife, Danielle, returned to the U.S.. and opened the St. James Cheese Company, a grand retail shop in uptown New Orleans filled with Richard’s selection of artisanal cheeses from around the world. Photo by Kristy May