Maroilles is a semi-soft washed rind cheese from the North of France. After it was invented in the 10th century by a monk in the Abbey of Maroilles, it quickly grew to fame, and was noted as the preferred cheese of several French kings (Philip II, Louis IX, Charles VI and Francis I).
Traditionally the farmers in the villages surrounding the Abbey of Maroilles were asked to convert their cow’s milk into young squares of Maroilles cheese every June 24th, the day of Saint Jean Baptiste. On the following 1st of October, the feast day of Saint Remi, the villagers would donate the aged cheeses to the Abbey, and the monks would distribute them to the Champagne grape harvesters for lunch and dinner. October 1st is still known as Maroilles Day in the region.
In making Maroilles, the curd is shaped and salted before being removed from its hoop. Young squares rest 10 days in a ventilated area, where they begin to develop a light blue fuzzy surface. They’re then moved to an aging cellar and washed and brushed for several weeks, developing an orange-red rind due to the introduction of Brevibacterium linens bacteria.
Maroilles AOC can be made in four sizes, and required ripening times vary accordingly. For ‘Traditionelle’ Maroilles (720g), ripening time is 5 weeks minimum; for ‘Sorbais’ (550g) it’s 4 weeks; for ‘Mignon’ (350g), 3 weeks; and for Quart (180g), at least 2 weeks.
Nicknamed vieux pant, or “old stinker,” Maroilles is characterized by a pungent smell. The taste is soft and creamy, with a slight sweetness and lingering flavor. It’s best enjoyed from May to August, but is also good from March until December.
Maroilles is a great end-of-meal cheese. It goes well with a brown ale, a French cider, a refined brandy, or an aromatic white wine such as a late-harvest Gewürztraminer.