If the north of France has its own distinct smell, I blame Maroilles. It’s the oldest, best known and most popular of the cheeses from the Hauts-de-France region. It’s also the smelliest.
It is nowhere as strong as Époisses on the stink-o-meter, mind. Unlike its popular Burgundian rival, Maroilles hasn’t been banned on the Paris metro.
This cow’s milk cheese can be found on every cheese plate in the region and as an ingredient in plenty of local dishes. It’s popular as a sauce – there’s a regional chicken dish which comes with it. I’ve also seen a pork terrine made with it and had snails cooked in it.
It was invented by monks at the Abbaye de Maroilles in 962, apparently, and was given Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status in 1955.
Production is limited to the south-eastern corner of the Nord département and the north-eastern part of neighbouring Aisne. Typically, a Maroilles cheese is square, and 13cm across and 6cm deep. Smaller sizes are allowed, however.
Each cheese is turned and washed regularly. This gets rid of the natural white mould and encourages the bacteria that give its rind its distinctive orangey-red colour.
Inside, it is a golden-yellow colour, soft and somewhat oily.
It is held in such esteem locally that there is even a brotherhood who celebrate Maroilles. Formed in 1983, this group of enthusiasts has the motto: “Honni soit qui, sans Maroilles, prétend tenir table loyale” (Shame on he who claims to have a fair table without Maroilles).
“This cow’s milk cheese can be found on every cheese plate in the region and as an ingredient in plenty of local dishes”
In recent years, the popularity of Maroilles has spread beyond the north of France. That’s largely thanks to the 2008 film Bienvenue Chez Les Ch’tis. This comedy classic helped popularise the cheese among the wider French population.
That said, I have never seen a square of Maroilles for sale on the street markets or in the shops of the south west. Maybe there’s a future opportunity there for me and Damon…?
If only we can get used to the smell.
Photo © Northern France Tourism