This weekend we’re celebrating the fourth Fête de la Tête de Moine and if you are looking for a cheesy source of visual WoW! factor, look no further than this beautiful cheese which looks like a beautiful flower. In fact is more a technique than a cheese.
Tête de Moine was invented by Swiss monks living at the Abbey of Bellelay in the Jura mountains in the twelfth century. The cheese is shaved, thus increasing surface area exposed to oxygen, and thereby changing the structure and improving the flavour.
Tête de Moine is French (the monks were in a French-speaking part of Switzerland) for Monk’s Head. There are two theories as to how this cheese earned its name. One is based on the fact that the monks counted their cheeses by tonsure, ie by monk headcount, and used each cheese as a form of payment. Another is that French forces annexed this region in the late 18th century and the impudent soldiers likened the practice of shaving off the hair of the monks (to make a tonsure) to the method for shaving the cheese.
Pre-shaving, Tête de Moine cheese is a semi-soft cows milk cheese produced in cylindrical truckles usually weighing about 800g, and matured on spruce wood boards for a minimum of 75 days for the ‘classic’ and 4 months for the ‘reserve’ – which has a spicier flavour and a more delicate structure. There is also a ‘bio’ version. The milk comes from cows fed on mountain pastures only – no silage.
The cheese is still produced in Bellelay (the annual festival is held there), but these days it’s a protected cheese – an AOP – produced by a select number (about ten) of village dairies.
In 1982 the ‘girolle’ was invented – this is a piece of equipment which produces the beautifully formed cheese flowers.
They are truly beautiful, melt-in-the-mouth morsels due to the thinness of the cheese. I like to serve them atop wine glasses, or in something which makes them look like flowers in a vase.
A very enjoyable way to find out more about this cheese would be to visit the museum in Bellelay, the Maison de la Tête de Moine.
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