Maroilles is one of France’s most notorious cheeses, not least because of its smell, or perhaps we should say, stink. But behind the terrifying whiff lingers a soft, creamy texture and delectable earthy, nutty flavour and so it is perhaps unsurprising that this beauty and the beast of a cheese has been named France’s favourite fromage

In a competition organised as part of the Salon de l’Agriculture, held at the Porte de Versailles in Paris, listeners of the RTL radio station were invited to vote for their favourite French cheese, and Maroilles topped the poll. 

Maroilles, dubbed ‘the finest of strong cheeses’, is a soft cheese with a washed rind, not dissimilar to Pont-l’Évêque and Munster. Made in Thiérache, its traditional methods and terroir won it AOC designation in 1976 and PDO in 1996 – but the history of this feisty fromage dates back to the 10th century when a monk at the Abbey of Maroilles first created the mighty stinker.  

Monks at the abbey, in the Nord department, had been making cheese since the 7th century, a privilege they kept to themselves until success demanded more production and they had to relent and share the recipe with neighbouring villagers.  

Nowadays, production takes place in a humid cellar, where the cheese, which is made from raw cow’s milk from 100 or so producers in Thiérache’s grasslands, is matured for three to five weeks, just as in medieval times, and washed with salt water, a process which gives it its flavour and orange hue. 

It comes in four formats:  

  • Le Quart, 180g, matured for 21 days 
  • Le Mignon, 360g, matured for 28 days 
  • Le Sorbais, 540g, matured for 28 days 
  • Le Maroilles, 720g, matured for 35 days 

So if you can cope with the whiff as you bring it home in you shopping bag, you will be richly rewarded. And not only can Maroilles be enjoyed as it comes, but it is also fantastic baked in the oven or in dishes such as flamiche, croque-monsieur or use it to elevate your mac ‘n’ cheese. Miam! 

Find out more about France’s cheeses here

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