It is believed that Maroilles cheese was invented by the monks of Maroilles abbey in 960.
A decree dating back to 1245 ordered farmers to transform the milk from their animals into cheese on the 24th June (Saint Jean-Baptiste's day) and then to give this cheese to the clerk of the Abbey on the 1st October (St. Rémy's day).
The result, which came to be known as 'La Merveille de Maroilles' (the 'Marvel of Maroilles'), was enjoyed by Charles V and Henry IV, and is considered to be one of the best strong cheeses.
This soft cheese with washed rind is made of cows' milk only and may be left to mature in a cellar for up to four months.
The specific atmosphere of the cellars of Thiérache gives rise to its unique type of flora, including the Brevibacterium linens bacteria (or 'red smear' bacteria), which modifies the flavour and aroma of the cheese.
In 1955, Maroilles was given its own 'Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée', a controlled designation of origin restricting the manufacture of the cheese to one area of Thiérache (from the Avesnes district in the south to the Vervins district in the north).
It can be enjoyed hot, in a Flamiche pie, or in a sauce to accompany meat, poultry and fish, but it is, of course, best enjoyed as the star addition to any cheeseboard. Indeed, as the old Maroilles friary saying goes, "Evil unto he who claims to lay an honest table without Maroilles".
Maroilles cheese is extremely tasty when accompanied with a full-bodied red wine, beer or cider.© Digital Archive Japan / age fotostock
The crust of Maroilles cheese is formed when the cheese is left to dry. Natural flora starts to cover it after around 8 to 10 days.© Digital Archive Japan / age fotostock