With a signature line of ash through its centre, French Morbier can be spotted by cheese lovers from a mile away. Unless it isn't Morbier, but rather its Canadiandoppelganger, a Quebec cheese named Le Douanier.
Created by master cheese maker Fritz Kaiser in 2000, Le Douanier won the Grand Champion award at the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix in 2004 and is a classic in Canada's young artisanal cheese industry.
Le Douanier is a semi-soft cheese, made in three-kilo wheels, with a copper-coloured rind that is washed and brushed as part of its affinage. The dense, pale gold paste has tiny eyes and is split with a thin line of grey-blue ash made from maple wood.
The cheese is aged for a minimum of nine weeks, but its average ripening is closer to 10-12 weeks. Its aroma is mild and creamy, with a slight barny scent close to the rind. The texture is dense and supple with notes of fruit and nuts and a characteristic tangy quality that carries into its finish.
The AOC Morbier, the cheese that inspired Douanier, comes from France's mountainous Franche-Comté region, also the home to the famous Comté cheese. In fact, the leftover curd from Comté's production - huge, 37-40 kg wheels - was once used to make the smaller, six- to eight-kilogram Morbier wheels.
The farmer would start to fill the Morbier mould with a batch of leftover curd in the evening and then cover the curd with ash to protect it until he could add the top layer from the following morning's leftovers. These days, Morbier - and Le Douanier - is made from one batch of milk. The ash line is added as homage to its origins.
While the best Morbier is still made from raw cow's milk, Le Douanier is made from pasteurized. But Mr. Kaiser manages to produce flavours that are mellow yet complex and gain amplitude with age. If you're already well acquainted with the cheese, look for the one-year aged version. Released about once a year, it's firmer and more intense.
As for the name? The ash line in the middle is symbolic of the U.S.-Canadian border that is located within a kilometre of Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser in Noyan, Quebec. Fittingly, Le Douanier translates to "customs officer."