I have been sampling great Canadian cheeses for this last week, but I am now going to deviate from this and round out another 7 or so International cheeses that I want to cover before it is over. Then it’s back to Canada for the last five. That’s the plan. Actually, I’m not sure I can really stop at 100. It’s become a lifestyle for me. We shall see!
It’s back to Switzerland for Tete de Moine. First made in the 1100’s by monks at the Bellelay monastery in the Bernese Jura mountains, the production predictably moved from the monks to the farms controlled by the monastery. See how hard it is to get a good Monk’s cheese these days? Tete de Moine was given to the monastery as a tithe by the locals- one cheese per monk per farm-family. Tete de moine actually means Head of the monk. Some debate exists as to whether this refers to the tithing-per monk’s head-or to the fact that monks had shaved heads or a tonsured appearance which sort of resembles Tete de Moine. Who knows?
Tete de Moine is made from raw cow’s milk. The cheese is still made by the descendents of those local farmers who once tithed it to the monks. It is currently produced in nine village dairies. After being formed the cheese is immersed in a brine bath for 12 hours. This expels water and starts the rind forming. The cheese is then placed on a pine board where it matures for at least 75 days in a humid and moist cheese cellar. It is cared for and flipped regularly as well as being brushed with a brine containing salt and bacteria. This bacterial bathing perhaps explains the super funky smell of this cheese. Although it doesn’t look like it, Tete de Moine is a washed rind cheese- and those, my friends, are little stinkers. As Tete de Moine is an AOC cheese, the milk from the cows has to come from a limited geographic region and the techniques used to make the cheese are carefully regulated.
Tete de Moine is traditionally shaved and formed into a rosette when being eaten. These days most people use a specially designed device called a girolle machine to make the cheese rosettes. Apparently shaving the cheese into this shape allows for lots of oxygen to mix with the cheese and to encourage the flavour. Tete de Moine and girolles are extremely popular in Switzerland and can be found just about anywhere. Not so in Canada, where I have had to make do with a paring knife.
I have to address the odour of this cheese. Tete de Moine is by far the stinkiest cheese I have run across in 89 cheeses. I was initially drawn to it because of its outrageously vile odor. I couldn’t believe that anyone would spend money on something that smelled like that, so of course-I did. I have actually had a few house guests smell this one through its wrapper as a party trick-all have recoiled in horror. Have you ever stuck your finger in your belly button after a really hot day, squished it around, and then smelled it? That smell, my friends, one could aptly describe as “tete de moine-like.” My children claim that it smells like “throat cheese,” and no- that’s one cheese I will not be reviewing. It’s really hard to describe how horrible this cheese smells-go and sniff some if you see it in the market, I dare you. It smells like sickness, and rot, and pain and dirty things excreted by humans. It looks innocent enough, a half circle of firm yellow cheese with a natural brown rind, it’s kind of crumbly and kind of sticky, but it just smells freaking awful. Have I been clear enough about this? It could be used as a torture device.