Morbier is a 15"-18" diameter/three inch tall, twenty pound wheel of semi-soft cow's milk cheese. Once a wheel is cut into, it is instantly recognizable by its black ash streak going through its center. When the leftover Gruyere curds were pressed into the Morbier molds, at the halfway point they were covered with burnt grapevine ash to prevent contamination from insects or anything else and to inhibit the development of a top rind. Then the next day after the morning milking, by afternoon new curds were put on top of the ash to fill the mold.
Morbier means "small market town" and while there is a village of Morbier in Franche-Comte, the cheese actually comes from the town of Morez in the Jura Mountains. Today Morbier is made in fruitieres, traditional cheese dairies in Franche-Comte; cooperatives; and industrial dairies. There are only a couple fermiers that actually still make the cheese in the manner described above. Today it is made in one step with a vegetable dye used to historically represent the ash streak.
Morbier may be either pasteurized or unpasteurized. Once the molds are filled with pressed curds, the young cheese is aged for two months. It is then washed in brine to encourage rind development and aged for two more months. By law Morbier must be aged forty-five days minimally and must reach a 45% fat content.
The finished product has a creamy brown, somewhat sticky, bulging, leathery natural rind. The interior color is soft ivory with the obligatory thin black layer. Morbier is one of those cheeses that smells stronger than it tastes. The savory and fruity aromas and flavors include grass, citrus fruit, nuts, and barnyard embedded in a rich creamy consistency. The finish is slightly bitter. Pinot Noir may be its best red wine match; Gewurztraminer, its white.
Morbier had its birth in the nineteenth century and was originally intended for home consumption only. The cheese received its AOC certification from the French government in 2001 and its PDO protection from the European Union in 2002.