The real masterpiece among all Swiss cheeses is the Tete de Moine, and is by all accounts the definition of a true gourmet cheese. This particular Swiss cheese is only produced in nine dairies in the northwestern portion of the Swiss Alps called the Bernese Jura, a part of Switzerland where French is the predominate language.
According to history, Tete de Moine is the “Cheese of the Monks” since it was thought to have been produced by the monks at the Bellelay abbey dating as far back as 1192. However, the Tete de Moine has only been fully noted for production and sale in 1520. Originally, this cheese was referred to as Fromage Bellelay, after the place where it was produced but was renamed Tete de Moine in 1970.
The literal English translation of Tete de Moine is “monks head”, referring to the tax (paid with cheese) by the abbey to the French kings and the shaved circular bald spot on the monks’ heads.
Tete de Moine is an unpasteurized, pressed curd cheese made from pure cow’s milk that is lightly cooked. The milk used to produce the Tete de Moine is delivered to the local dairy twice a day to make sure that it is fresh. The milk is then processed within modern facilities but without forgetting traditional cheese making methods. Although the taste of the Tete de Moine is very similar to other Swiss cheeses, the Swiss government emphasizes that it is NOT a factory made cheese.
Tete de Moine is served in small wheels and is cut using a griolle – a tool that allows perfect shaving with minimum effort. and has either a sticky or a hard brown outer rind that depends on the dairy. Its interior paste is firm and comes in straw color, but darkens as it ages. The unique feature of the Tete de Moine is that it ages from the outside to the inside, so the part closer to the rind looks darker or browner. This feature is often mistaken by some first time Tete de Moine tasters as a sign of poor quality.
One very distinctive feature of the Tete de Moine is its aroma. Aside from its natural brown edges, it gives off a very delectable smell even before cutting it. It smells like roasted nuts mixed with earthy wine and musty wood that will transform any room into a cheese heaven. When you taste the Tete de Moine, you will get a full bodied flavor as well as very complex hints of nuts and sweet fruit.
Ask any cheese monger, and they will tell you that the Tete de Moine cheese has much more flavor and smells greater than Emmental and Gruyere. If you are looking for a real gourmet Swiss mountain style cheese, then the Tete de Moine is your best choice. Go and try one today!