Morbier Cheese Info
What is Morbier Cheese
Morbier is a unique cheese with a layer of ash in the center. It was originally a small batch version of the famous Comte, but it was made in two separate half batch makes due to a lack of milk for a single cheese. Morbier also tends to be much moister than Comte, as well as smaller.
Originally Morbier was made over a wood fire and the milk carried a smoky flavor from the fire.
The final cheese, when ripe, will be very elastic with a soft paste that tends to flow and spread a bit when warmed to room temperature.
The Surface of the cheese is washed with a light brine during the first couple months of aging to develop an aromatic red surface layer that produces the characteristic aroma for Morbier.
Why Morbier Has Two Separate Layers of Curd
Morbier is a cheese that was originally made by small farms in the region of the Jura mountains, along the French Swiss border. However the region was much better known for Comte cheese, as it still is today.
Comte was a very large cheese requiring a large amount of milk originally made by small farm producers but at certain times of the year they could not produce enough milk from one milking to make the full cheese.
The smaller amount of curds from these small batches was placed into the form, lightly pressed by hand and held until the next milking when the second curd mass was added to the form. Then the entire form was pressed. A times flies and dust from the room would drop into the resting cheese. Of course this sometimes caused unexpected problems in the cheese, until the day the wind blew down the chimney…
Why Ash Was is Added to Morbier
...On a very windy day the local maker of Morbier had laid in and pressed a partial curd mass into the form then left it to wait for the second batch of curd. At this time the cheese was being made over the fire and the form and cheese rested next to the fire to keep warm.
The strong wind caused a downdraft from the chimney, dropping a dusting of black soot which layered over the resting cheese. I imagine the thinking was that this was a terrible thing to happen to the new cheese, however not wanting to waste the milk, the next curd was layered in on top of the black surface.
The new cheese was likely accepted as interesting enough to repeat and they eventually found that some of the undesirable characters that had been the result of the unprotected surface exposure previously (bad bacteria, oxidation, poor consolidation of surfaces, etc) were no longer showing up and at some point this became a part of the Morbier process.
Obviously the wind doesn’t blow like this every day and so the natural chimney soot was replaced by Kettle Black, the soot that forms on the bottom of a kettle heated by wood fire. The procedure after laying in the first curd was to wipe a wet hand across the kettle bottom and transfer this black smoke residue to the surface of the cheese.
Modern Day Morbier
Today Morbier is made in larger Cooperatives (fruitière in french) that collect milk from many farms. I also understand that many of them today make large batches of single, large, full size Morbier and then once pressed, cut them in half with long wires before dusting the cut surface with vegetable ash and pressing the two parts back together. Remember there is still a lot of activity inside the aging cheese as the proteins are constantly being broken down and reassembled during aging.