Hey! What's that shit in the middle of my cheese? Doesn't look like dried cranberries. Don't smell like truffle. Who rubbed dirt all up in my wheel?
But that's not dirt, my angry little friend. That's history AND tradition. Come, sit, relax, pop the zanie, and let it all just wash over you. We are about to embark on a voyage through space and time to the lovely region that is the Franche Comté. It sounds so… French. And it is.
Way back yonder in the 19th century, the amazing craftsmen of the Jura region prided themselves on the behemoth of a cheese known as Comté—picture Barry White sipping Cognac, nude on a polar bear rug. No reason, just wanted you to know. But now picture the same scenario, except with George Clooney's little head bobbing up and down in the lap of the one, the only, the Lady herself, Dame Judi Dench. That's Comté.
The cheesemakers of Comté would sometimes have a wee bit of curd left over from their massive molds of Comté (about 90 pounds of hefty wheels). They would fill up little pizza-sized cheese discs, dust a layer of ash from the fire that was used to warm the milk from the product that was made that day, and shuffle off to their little chalets. How quaint. The next morning, back they would go to the dairy, where—after the morning spent milking and the first round of Comté making—they would pack on the leftover curd on top of the ash to set the cheese that would become known far and wide as Morbier.
So what's up with the ash? Great question, dear cheese eater. It's almost as if you knew I wanted you to ask. Well, that ash was used to protect the fine young curd from such things as bugs, hay, animal stuff, and pubes. This stuff was also kept in a barn, so, you know, shit wasn't clean by any standards. That ash would get pressed down into the bottom layer of curd under the weight of the morning make. The wheels would get brined (to help build that lovely, peachy rind) and left to age out on wooden planks. The end result: a tiny bit funky (think about Barry White, again) and a teeny bit animal-y and soil-y (now think about George and Judy again). Get it? Full circle.
And while Morbier began as a by product that only the lowly farmer would eat, it was actually way faster to mature and get to market so the poor (literally) farmer could sell some of the Morbier while the beauty, Comté, could age with grace. In essence, Morbier was once a cheese that was purely for the edible enjoyment of the cheese makers. What is now so designer-y (veins of ash are all the rage in Milan) was born out of necessity.
Morbier is not only great to look at, but tasty as hell. So is Barry White.