Tete de Moine Info

What is Tete de Moine Cheese

“Tete de Moine” is quite unique in presentation today it is scraped instead of cut to reveal a very thin layer that tends to roll into a small flower like cone or floret. This method tends to aerate the surface and reveals the most amazing flavors. Its flavor in the mouth is like a soft cloud of amazing tastes … nutty.. creamy.. slightly acid plus some amazing aromatics. There is no bite to it because it just melts in the mouth.

It is normally served today with a great deal of showy celebration as tiny florets displayed on a board or plate. You just pop the entire thing into your mouth. Originally they were simply scraped with a knife but with modern times another tool has been invented called a Girolle. With this cheese tool the the Tete de Moine gets impaled on an upright spike and a rotating blade pivots on this to create the thin shavings.

Before I had a chance to try this in Europe I felt it was just a tad bit ‘gimmicky’ for my style.

However I quickly became a convert once I saw it done and tasted it.

So I did the research and trials for the cheese this month. It’s only August but the cheese deserves a Celebration so it will age and be ready for the holiday parties in December. I will probably invest in a Girolle for this as well between now and then (I do get to a lot of food gatherings).

Truthfully though it is a great cheese any time of year and you don’t really need the Girolle or even to shave the cheese but at least use a cheese plane or cut it in very thin slices … it makes a difference. Its not a cheese to be taken in Big Chunks.

The History of Tete de Moine

Tete de Moine is produced in the Swiss Jura region and is a very special cheese. It was originally known as Bellelay, named for the monastery of the same name. ”Tête de Moine" has been the accepted name since about 1790, when soldiers of the French Revolution chased the monks from the region and found the cheese behind in the cellars. They quickly developed the unique method of scraping the surface of the cheese instead of cutting the cheese for eating. They quickly realized that it reminded them of the top of the monks head that was traditional shaved and hence the name.

However the cheese has a much longer history. The monastery of Bellelay was established in 1136. However as early as 1192, the monks of the monastery Bellelay were first mentioned in connection with cheese. The local farms began to make it as well however they were charged a tax on land used to Monks (Monks owned the land they farmed) and paid with cheese they made.

The name Tête de Moine, means literally monk’s head. The name either refers to either the old custom of farms tithing a cheese for each monk’s head or to the fact that monks had shaved the tops of their heads which sort of resembles the Tete de Moine as its cut.

At one time it was produced on many small farms but today It is produced in fewer than ten dairies in the French speaking Jura Villages, the rest is made by large cooperatives.

Learn More About Tete de Moine Cheese

Tete de Moine is a cylindrical semi-firm cheese with a washed/smeared tan to reddish rind. It takes about 4gallons of milk to make a 3.5-4 lb cheese.

The cheese was traditionally and is still best made only from summer milk but now it is made year-round. When ripe it has a a semi-firm body and the elasticity of an alpine cheese.

Both raw and pasteurized milk are used today, but pasteurization destroys the natural microflora of the milk, whereas unpasteurized or raw milk from the AOP region used for Tête de Moine AOP fully preserves its unique taste and is a prerequisite for the production of this cheese with its distinct aroma. So if you can find raw milk for this one it would be your best choice.

The traditional AOP requirements for the cheese are:

  • No silage feeding allowed
  • Mix morning and even Milk sometimes cream skimmed
  • Use milk within 24 hr
  • Milk cultured at close to the same temp as the animal

Tete de Moine ages for at least 3 months on pine boards and brushed to form a smear coat of specific bacteria and molds to protect the cheese.