Tête de Moine has a long history in Switzerland, but did you know that a special tool developed in the 1980s helped perfect its characteristic rosette shape? This weekend, you can celebrate this special cheese from the Swiss Jura at the first annual Fête de la Tête de Moine in Bellelay. This is one of my favorite cheeses in Switzerland, and I look forward to learning more about it at this festival, which runs from Friday, May 29 to Sunday, April 1, 2016.
What is Tête de Moine?
Tête de Moine AOP (Appellations d’origine protégées) is a semi-hard Swiss cheese made from raw cow’s milk. It earned a protected status from the Swiss federal government in 2001. Products that bear this label must be produced within a particular region of northwest Switzerland. The cheese typically ages for a period of about 3-4 months on spruce planks.
The first written reference to Tête de Moine occurred in the 1790s in what is now the Swiss Jura region, but cheesemaking in this area, and specifically at the Bellelay Abbey dates back to the 12th century. In English, Tête de Moine literally means “monk’s head,” and two primary theories exist for how the cheese got this name, given its connection to this abbey (which you can read about here).
To serve Tête de Moine — as part of cheese platter, for example — you’ll usually find it scraped into thin shavings with a knife. This process was greatly aided in 1981 by a Swiss invention called the Girolle. To use it, you stab the Girolle in the middle of the cheese, and then swing the blade around the wheel of cheese to create a perfect rosette. If you don’t have this special knife, you can find the already prepared rosettes at Swiss supermarkets, like Coop and Migros.
First Annual Fête de la Tête de Moine
This weekend, and starting today, you can celebrate Tête de Moine at a new Swiss festival: Fête de la Tête de Moine. It takes place in Belleley, within the Swiss Jura, which is considered the birthplace of this very Swiss cheese. During the event, you can visit the Maison de la Tête de Moine and the Bellelay Abbey. There will be a market of regional food products, children’s activities, cheese-making demonstrations, lots of opportunities to sample Tête de Moine, and much more. The full program of events is available here.
Serving Tête de Moine
Until recently, I had only eaten Tête de Moine as part of a cheese plate. However, I was familiar with a Tête de Moine recipe with apples in my Betti Bossi cookbook. This week, I was inspired to use it in a simple salad for lunch. Here’s what I prepared…
Arugula Salad with Tête de Moine
- Braeburn apple(s)
- Tête de Moine rosettes
- walnuts, roughly chopped
- lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- extra virgin olive oil
- Make an easy salad dressing with 2 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice and 3 parts extra virgin olive oil. After thinly slicing the apples, toss them in some of the salad dressing in a separate bowl, to prevent them from turning brown.
- Arrange the arugula on a plate or platter and place the remaining salad ingredients on top.
- Sprinkle the top of the salad with additional dressing, as desired. Serve immediately.
If you’re looking for additional recipes using Tête de Moine, you can visit the website for the Interprofession Tête de Moine.