Tête du Moine really is a cute little cheese. It can immediately be picked out of a line of cheeses due to it being almost as round as it is tall. There are certain phrases in other languages that have an air of prestige about them, a sense of importance, a sense of style. However, when they are translated into English they don't sound half as fancy. Tête du Moine converts into English as 'Monk's Head.' As a phrase, Tête du Moine sounds regal, ancient and sophisticated just like the Swiss like to portray themselves. Monk's Head sounds like a deserted, failing pub in Northern England and not at all appetizing.
We bought this cheese in Courmayeur (which is possibly the closest Italian town to the Swiss border) in a fantastic fromagerie where the employers wore traditional red gowns to work. As we entered the shop I almost felt as though we were being transported back in time to an era where people valued a sense of style in retail establishments. Both ladies in red attire had their hair tied back and traditional clogs on their feet making them actually look like they were at work in a cheese shop. Whether it is part of the gimmick or not, cheese is stylish in Italy and so are the people who sell it.
Tête du Moine is a small cheese with a unique shape and a stinky odor. We bought a section of a wheel to take hiking with us on the Tour du Mont Blanc in the hope that it would last a few days. Traditionally, I believe you are supposed to eat it by scraping slivers off with a knife which allows oxygen to hit the surface changing the taste of the cheese. After a long day hiking we were far too hungry to mess around with shavings so we simply cut chunks off and ate it with bread. It tastes nowhere near as strong as it smells as one lucky hiker found out on our trip. Recently returning from the shower in the refuge he complained that there must be a hiker near by with terrible smelling boots. Once we revealed that it was probably the cheese he could smell he retracted in horror only to be pleasantly surprised when we forced him to try it!
As the name suggests the cheese was first made by monks in what is believed to have been the 8th century. No matter where you go in Europe, monks are always brilliant at making cheese. Or at least they used to be. Regular invasions by all sorts of invaders meant that monks needed to stay on their toes and hold onto their robes. Perhaps cheese was used to save their skins. Their vast knowledge of self sufficiency, resilience, dislike for waste and simple lifestyle has proven an excellent combination for the progression of cheese through the ages.
Tête du Moine is a raw cow milk cheese made only in the Jura mountain area of Switzerland and it's said to be great with white wine although I wouldn't know because I don't like white wine! It's shiny silver foil package can be found in many cheese shops nationally and internationally with it's AOP designated status clearly visible on the label. Whether you are eating it under the name of Tête du Moine or Monk's Head, one thing is for sure, it tastes pretty good!