Its history dates back to the 12th century, eating it is a truly unique experience and its flavour is a revelation: that’s Tête de Moine.
The Bellelay monastery was built in 1136 in the northern part of the Bernese Jura. The canons obviously had a gift for cheese-making as their product was first documented just a few years later. They paid their dues for various pieces of land with their cheese. Many documents can be found over the following centuries which refer to the use of cheese as a means of payment.
The name “Tête de Moine” (monk’s head) was first used at the end of the 18th century when the region briefly belonged to the French département of Mont-Terrible. It may have been used derisively as monks used to shave their heads (the tonsure). But it may equally have just been a way of counting: how many cheeses are stored per (monk’s) head? In any case: the name still stands today and has been part of the official name, along with its original provenance, since 2001: Tête de Moine, Fromage de Bellelay AOP.
It has been proven that Tête de Moine has always been scraped instead of sliced. Scraping increases the surface area of the cheese which comes in contact with moving air, allowing the typical flavours to unfold to the full. Maybe the monks in the Abbey of Bellelay did it to enjoy a sneaky snack. Today, various scraping devices are used for this purpose, going back to the Girolle® invented in 1981. The Fleurolle sold by Spielhofer makes it very easy to create the delightful rosettes which have since become the trademark of Tête de Moine.
Tête de Moine is a cylindrical, washed, semi-soft, raw milk cheese weighing 880 grams. It is made from a very fine-grained paste which melts slightly in the mouth. The lush grass and herbs of the pastures and natural mountain milk make Tête de Moine a product of its “terroir” and create it its incomparable flavour. It is produced according to the stringent standard of the AOP specifications and is matured for at least two and a half months on pine boards. Only eight cheese dairies in the Bernese and Jura hills are allowed to make Tête de Moine.