Morbier (more-bee-YAY) is one of France’s best-known cheeses. It is a semi-soft, aromatic and surprisingly mild French cow’s milk cheese, defined by the dark vein of vegetable ash streaking through its middle.
Like Gruyère? Then you’re sure to like Morbier. It was first produced over 250 years ago in the village of Morbier in Franche-Comté, a province in eastern central France, bordering Switzerland.
It’s a semisoft raw cow’s milk cheese similar to Gruyère, but it has a signature stripe of ash through the middle. The two layers of the cheese originally came from two milkings, one in the morning and one in the evening, but these days it’s usually composed of just one milking, and made into 12-pound wheels, as opposed to the much larger, 70-pound wheels of Gruyère. The Morbiers of Jura and Doubs, départments (like counties) within the province, are designated Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), although non-AOC Morbiers are made in the other two départments.
One might call Morbier the “child” of Gruyère, the better-known cheese that has been made since the reign of Charlemagne (768-814 C.E.), in what is today the
Franche-Comté region of France. Local cheesemakers who made Gruyère de Comté often had leftover curds at the end of the day—not enough to make a full Gruyère. They would press the leftover curd from the evening production into a mold and cover it with a protective thin layer of tasteless ash, both to prevent it from both drying out and to keep away the flies. The next day, they would add the leftover curd from the morning milking and production. The result was a two-layered cheese. With today’s modern production techniques, the ash is purely decorative but a defining characteristic of the cheese that lets one identify it from 10 paces.
Morbier is aged for at least 60 days and up to four months, creating a tan rind and an ivory paste. It has an assertive aroma, but a mild. Morbier is known for its complex fruity flavor and slight tang. The two layers of the cheese have slightly different flavors; the layer from the evening milking tastes fruitier than the one from the morning milking.
Serve as a table cheese or melt it in fondue, cheese sauces or grilled cheese. It works nicely with salads, fruit, tomatoes and smoked meats
Pair Morbier with Pinot Noir or Gewürtztraminer; with Chardonnay; or with wines from its home region, the Jura, such as Savagnin and red and white wines from Arbois.