Region: Jura, Switzerland
Milk: Raw cows milk, Swiss brown
Tête de Moine AOC (“monk’s head”) is a cylindrical, semi-hard cheese from Jura, Switzerland with a silky body that easily melts in your mouth. This Swiss gourmet cheese was originally invented by the monks of Belleray Abbey in the Bernese Jura, and the brothers taught the local farmers how to make it.
Tête de Moine AOC owes its unmistakable taste to the natural mountain milk that goes into it. Fewer than ten village dairies in the region of origin make the cheese according to the strict AOC (protected designation of origin) specifications. The cheese is then aged for about three months on pine boards.
The cheese is formed into the shape of a short cylinder. It has a firm, straw yellow paste that darkens as it ages and a spicy, fruity flavour and aroma. Older Tete de Moine cheeses smell strongly of roasted nuts with wine-like aromas. The flavour is sweet and tangy, with musty wood mold and nuts. It is matured from four to six months and receives regular brine washings which produces a reddish brown and slightly greasy rind. Unlike most other mountain gourmet cheeses which tend to be very large, it is made in small drums. There may be small holes or horizontal fissures in the paste.
One of its characteristics is that it is not cut, but pared – using a device such as the Girolle or Pirouette – to make delicate rosettes. This increases the amount of air that comes into contact with the surface of the cheese, altering the structure of its body and allowing the full flavour of the cheese to develop. This paring, using a blade held at right angles to the surface, is effectively the same method as that used by the monks of Bellelay abbey – who used the cheeses as a form of payment as far back as the 12th century.
Connoisseurs serve Tête de Moine AOC as the highlight of a cheese board, or as the ideal accompaniment to an aperitif. It also makes an exquisite dessert cheese. The rosettes are most easily formed when the cheese is well chilled.