Morbier cheese is a French cheese that is made from cow’s milk and is semi-soft. It has a distinctive appearance because it has two layers, separated by a layer of edible ash. The name for Morbier cheese comes from the village to which its invention is credited, Morbier in the eastern French province of Franche-Comté.
People who first made Morbier cheese didn’t make it to sell it. Instead it was a farmer’s cheese, often made for personal consumption and as a way to strive for economy. The earliest versions of the cheese were made with leftover cheese curd. Cheese makers also made the cheese when they used leftover milk, but normally there wasn’t enough milk to fill a full round. In order to keep the first layer from forming a crust, morning milk in the round would be sprinkled with edible ash. The second layer would be added in the evening after the evening milking had taken place.
In color, Morbier cheese is a white to pale yellow, and it typically ages for only a short period of time, from about a month and a half to three months. Some complain that the cheese has an unpleasant smell, but true cheese connoisseurs tend not to mind strong smelling cheeses. The flavor of the cheese may have a slightly bitter aftertaste, but many praise Morbier cheese for its creamy texture.
True Morbier cheese is made by either of the two methods listed above, and is marked with the French controlled term of origin, also called the appellation d’origine contrôlée or AOC. When the cheese is AOC marked, it does come from the Franche-Comté and is made in a traditional manner. Without this marking, the cheese may have a slightly different taste or texture, and may contain vegetable additives.
An interesting takeoff on Morbier cheese is the American Mobay cheese. This Wisconsin developed cheese is not made of cow’s milk. Instead Mobay is a semi-soft cheese made of a layer of goat’s milk, and one of sheep’s milk. In appearance it is similar to Morbier, with ash separating the two layers. The taste, however, is markedly different, since goat and sheep’s milk are significantly different in flavor and tend to produce sharper cheeses.