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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Munster Cheese.The Premiere Cheese from the Alsace and the Lorraine. The town of Munster in the Alsace.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan Newman
Updated December 2018

Aged Munster cheese.
Munster the town and Munster the Cheese.
(The cheese called Muenster in the USA has a different origin and taste).

Munster AOP or Munster Géromé AOP  is a 45% fat, (27 % fat dry weight) dry to creamy, ivory colored, pungent, cow’s milk cheese made with unpasteurized cow’s milk. The natural edible rind of a young Munster 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.  Munster is one of the real stinky cheeses of France though the cheese's taste is far from as strong as the smell. The smell is a reaction to repeated washing in brine and rock salt which prevents the growth of any mold while intentionally affecting the taste and smell.  Nevertheless, plastic wrap, refrigeration, (not freezing), makes this tasty cheese easy to serve and enjoy. The two names Munster and Munster Géromé represent the production in the Alsace for the Munster and the Lorrain for the Munster Géromé, their tastes and smells are identical.

Petit Munster.

Munster comes in a variety of size beginning with a Petit Munster that weighs 120 grams (4 oz) and a Petit Munster Géromé that weighs 200 grams (7 oz).  The larger Munsters come in a wide variety of sizes up to 6 kilos (13 lbs).  The cheeses are aged for a minimum of two weeks and on up to 3 months. The younger cheeses are lighter and drier, the old are smellier, and creamier.  In cheese shops in the Alsace the refrigerated cheese is often on sale unboxed in both square and circular shapes, and then you will see the mature cheese's brick red rind.
Munster the town

The small and attractive town of Munster is in the department of the Haute Rhine in the Alsace part of the new super region of the Grand Est.  The town developed around the now derelict Abbey of Saint Gregory of Munster; Saint-Grégoire. The original abbey was rebuilt many times but destroyed during the French revolution with the final destruction in WWI.   The monks built their abbey in a valley of the Vosges Mountains and either named it after a corruption of the word monastery or after Munster in Ireland from where many of the original celtic speaking monks came. Munster is on the Alsace Route de Vins, the Wine Route of the Alsace which is  home to eleven fabulous wines, and the ten white wines in that group are amongst the best that France has to offer. The Gewurztraminer AOC/AOP semi-dry white wine whose vines originated here are now grown and sold all over the world. Munster is on the Alsace wine route just 17 Km (12 miles) from Colmar, the prefecture, the capital of the department of the Haute Rhine and 68 km (42 miles) from Basel, Switzerland.
Like many other Alsatian towns, many rooftops are home to nesting storks, the house with a nesting stork has a good-luck charm. The male storks arrive in the spring and begin building the nest with the same nest serving the couple for many years; storks are faithful to their partners and return to the same nests every year. By September the young storks leave followed by the elder storks joining their 10,000-mile annual migration. 

Cranes on a rooftop in Munster.
Munster on French menus:

Croustillant de Munster au Miel et Salade Verte Crisply fried Munster cheese with honey drizzled over it and served with a green salad.  

Munster with honey is in many recipes 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.  Miel de Sapin is a unique honey made with honeydew taken from aphids which are shepherded by bees who do not collect pollen but the honeydew from the aphids that are found on the trees in the Vosges pine forests; that unique honey was sprinkled all over the pastry. 
Tarte Flambée au Choix (traditionnelle, gratinée, munster) - A tart flambee, also called flammen kuechen, made to your choice. Eithet the traditional version or one with grated yellow cheese on top, or made with Munster. A tarte flambée with Munster begins with the original tarte flambée recipe which is bread dough covered with crème fraîche and a Bibeleskaes, a local soft white cheese, thinly sliced onions, and lardons, smoked or fried bacon bits; to this is added the Munster cheese.  The tarte will be baked in an oven for about ten minutes and served; the traditional wood-fed oven gives the best flavor.

Tarte Flambe with Munster and lardons, bacon bits.
Jambonneau Gratiné au Munster sur Choucroute – Roasted ham hock, also called a pork knuckle, sprinkled with grated Munster and served on a bed of choucroute, the Alsace’s signature sauerkraut, pickled cabbage.

Tartiflette au Munster -   A tartiflette with Munster will have a whole a Munster baked, usually with added cream or crème fraîche and served over boiled potatoes, bacon bits, and onions. The name tartiflette comes from a dish that originated with the Reblochon AOP cheese in the departments of the Savoy the new super region of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.  Nevertheless, eating a cooked Munster cheese over boiled potatoes has been a local Munster tradition from when potatoes became an important crop in the 17th century. 

Tartiflette with Munster and potatoes
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.  The same cheese is made on the Lorraine side of the Vosges mountain and the two cheeses were united when Munster earned the right to carry the AOC label in 1986. The Pan European AOP came along in 2006.

The Géromé Munster cheese of the Lorraine.

The Munster Géromé who obtained his own AOC in 1978 takes its name from the city of Gerardmer in the Lorraine Vosges    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.

Ready to enjoy Munster.
Is Munster such a smelly cheese?

Munster has a reputation as a smelly cheese; which it deserves. Despite that, while it may be smelly if kept fresh and wrapped and in a plastic box in the refrigerator the smell will not spread, and when served in small quantities the smell is far from overpowering. Certain French cheeses 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.

Tarte flambee with Munster cheese accompanied by wine from the Alsace.
Apart from 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.
Munster on Sale.
Taking Munster home.
To take this cheese to take home have it vacuum wrapped, sealed it will travel well for 48 hours.  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 traveling with this cheese all seem to be related to poor packaging.  For buying and traveling with French cheese see the post:  Buying Cheese in France. Bringing French Cheese Home and a Cheese Lexicon for buying French Cheese.
The Munster cheese lovers.

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.
The name Munster.
Two stories claim to provide the origin of the town’s name. The first story links the word monastery, around which the town was built, and the other links to Munster in Ireland. Munster is one of Ireland’s provinces and from there in the 6th century came many of the Celtic and Latin-speaking proselyting monks who established monasteries in France and Germany.

Ireland’s Munster rugby club flag.
Connected posts:




Posts on other French cheeses:


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Bryan G. Newman

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