WHAT IS TETE DE MOINE?
French for “Monk’s Head” this cheese was invented in an abbey in the Swiss canton of Bearn almost a millennium ago. At one point in the 12th century monks even paid debts in cheese rather then money. Today when serving Tete de Moine, the rinded top is cut off similar to the lid of a box. Then a metal rod is jammed up through the bottom of this cylindrical cheese like a frightening proctology exam. A blade (girolle) spins around the top of the cylinder, scraping off curls of cheese. Supposedly this looks similar to a monk shaving only the top of their head to create a tonsure.
Tete is a raw cow’s milk P.D.O. cheese that is semi-hard. Though what is being imported into the U.S.A. today used to peel a lot more easily then the more rubbery versions we see now. But this isn’t as annoying as the afore mentioned exam to be fair.
WHERE IS TETE DE MOINE MADE?
It is made in the Swiss canton of Jura in the mountainous region of Bearn. This area is in the northwest tip of Switzerland. There are around a dozen dairies that still make it following the strict P.D.O. (known there as A.O.P.) regulations.
IS JURA THE NEW ALSACE-LORRAINE?
After World War II, there were rumblings in the Jura French speaking community about succeeding from the canton of Bearn. In 1978 this dream became a reality. Then in 2004 a government commission proposed reuniting the estranged areas. Compromises typical with divorced couples were proposed like having mutual custody (creating half cantons, etc). It is easy to forget that mainland Europe is like the sea. On the surface all seems tranquil but below thousands of years of history is rumbling about.
WHAT CAN I PAIR WITH TETE DE MOINE?
Fruits both fresh and dried as well as sweet dessert wines pair well with this cheese. For a Swiss cheese flight, try an aged Gruyere and a spicy Appenzeller or cave aged Emmenthaler. If you want to go more international, switch milk types and textures with a goat’s milk Humboldt Fog and a nice cow’s milk camembert.