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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Munster Cheese.The Premiere Cheese from the Alsace and the Lorraine, not the American Muenster Cheese. The Town of Munster’s Irish and Scottish History.

Behind the French Menu. 
Bryan Newman 

Munster the town and Munster the Cheese.
(The cheese called Muenster in the USA has a different origin and taste).
A stork on a rooftop in Munster.
Photograph courtesy of george kiwi.

Munster the town

The small and attractive town of Munster is in the French department of the Haute Rhine in the Alsace; like many other Alsatian towns many rooftops are home to nesting storks. The town was built around the now derelict  Abbey of Saint Gregory of Munster; the original abbey was  built by Scottish and Irish monks of the Benedictine order who came to Germany and the Alsace in the 6th century c.e.. The original  abbey was rebuilt many times, but destroyed during the French revolution with more damage in WWII.   The monks built their abbey in a valley of the Vosges mountains and named  it Munster after the southern area of Ireland from which some of the monks came; Munster is still one of Ireland’s provinces. 


Ireland’s Munster rugby club flag.

Munster is 17Kms (12 miles) from Colmar, the prefecture, the capital of the department of  the Haute Rhine and also 68 km (42 miles)  from Basel, Switzerland.
Munster the Cheese

Munster AOP, Munster Kaes or Munster Géromé  and Petite Munster AOP is a 45% fat cheese made with unpasteurized  cow’s milk.

Petit Munster.
Phortograph courtesy of Hopkinsii.
This is a tasty, ivory-colored cheese with a rind that begins with a pink tinge for the youngest and drier Petit Munster, to a deep red for a two or three-month mature creamy smooth Munster. While the cheese ages, it is regularly turned and washed in brine which prevents the growth of any mold, but, as may be expected the brine intentionally  affects the taste.
Munster in the kitchen.
 Munster is a very adaptable cheese and one of the most wonderful desserts I ever had was a warm mature Munster cheese cooked inside a thin crispy pastry and served with the  Miel de Sapin des Vosges  AOP, a unique pine honey from the Vosge pine forests,  that was dribbled all over the pastry.  That dessert was wonderful; what a way to enjoy Munster cheese
Your restaurant menu may offer:

Croustillant de Munster au Miel et Salade Verte – Crispy fried Munster cheese with honey dribbled over it and served with a green salad.
Tarte Flambee au Choix (traditionnelle, gratinée, munster). A tart flambee, also called flammen kuechen,  made to your choice;  choose the traditional version or  with grated cheese on top, or made with Munster. 

Tarte Flambe with Munster.
Photograph courtesy of Olivier Anh
A tarte flambée with Munster  begins with the original tarte flambée  recipe which is bread dough covered with crème fraîche and a soft white cheese, thinly sliced onions and lardons, smoked or fried bacon bits; to this is added  the Munster cheese.  All is baked in an oven for about ten minutes and served.  See the post on tarte flambee:  Tarte Flambée,Tarte Flambe,Flammen Kuechen;  Alsace’s Signature Slow-Fast Food.
Jambonneau Gratiné au Munster sur Choucroute. – Roasted ham hock, also called a pork knuckle,  sprinkled with Munster and served on a bed of choucroute, the Alsace’s signature sauerkraut, pickled cabbage.

Tartiflettes au Munster-   A tartiflette with Munster  will have a whole cheese  baked, usually with added cream or crème fraîche and then served over boiled potatoes, bacon bits and onions.
How old is the Munster cheese recipe?
For the  monks who came to the valley in the 6th century cheese making was the only way to preserve excess milk before refrigeration; however,  today’s Munster cheese was probably developed by the monks a mere 600 years ago.  Today the cheese is made on both sides of the Vosges mountains;  the two cheeses were united  when the cheese earned the right to carry the label AOC/AOP.
The Munster cheese of the Alsace and the Munster cheese of the Lorraine.
 Munster is also made in the region of the Lorraine, and that relates to the tradition of  taking the cows from Munster to graze over the border.  The farmers of the Lorraine then made their own Munster cheese called  Géromé or Gerome Munster.  A name said to relate, in the Loraine dialect, to the rent paid to the Duke of Lorraine for his permission to graze the Munster cows on his land.

A ripe Munster.
Photograph courtesy of Matt Ryall
Is Munster a smelly cheese?
Munster  has a reputation as a smelly cheese; which it deserves; it may be smelly, but when served in small quantities and kept fresh, the smell is far from overpowering.  Certain French cheese like Roquefort  and Epoisses  are higher up the list of smelly cheeses and the UK has its Stilton and  Germany has its Limburger all of which are higher up the smell rankings.

Aging Munster cheeses.
Photograph courtesy of geoterranaute.
Buying Munster cheese
In cheese shops in the Alsace where I have bought Munster cheese it is often on sale unwrapped, and on the mature cheeses you may see the brick red rind.  Munster is sold in cheese shops all over France and in a wide range of sizes  with the smallest only 100 grams.

Munster on Sale.
Photograph courtesy of notfrancois.
When you buy  Munster cheese, there are a number of choices other than size to be considered. Apart form the cheese’s age and maturity you may choose a farm made cheese, a cheese made in a co-operative dairy, a cheese made with organic milk, and  or versions made with added cumin.
Taking Munster home.
If you buy this cheese to take home, then have it vacuum wrapped. When you arrive home, keep the cheese wrapped in a separate plastic bag in a separate container in the refrigerator,  not the freezer; then the cheese’s smell will not affect other cheeses or foods.   The stories that I have heard about travelling with this cheese all seem to be  related  to poor packaging  For buying and travelling with cheese see the post:  Buying Cheese in France. Bringing French Cheese Home and a Cheese Lexicon for buying French Cheese.
Supporting the Munster cheese

Like nearly all  French foods and wines, there is a voluntary group promoting this cheese. In and around Munster are most of the members the Confrérie Saint Grégoire du Taste- fromage de la Vallée de Munster. This confrérie, a  brother and sisterhood, aim at inspiring cheese lovers, particularly Munster cheese lovers.  They arrange dinners, fetes, and  if you are ready to swear your enduring love for Munster cheese you may be accepted as a member.

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2014.
For more information on the book behind this post contact Bryan Newman