Tête de Moine AOP
"'Tête de moine, Bellelay cheese' is what you will see on every label of this particular cheese, currently the only AOP cheese in the Jura and Bernese Jura. Almost nine centuries ago, the monks of the abbey of Bellelay created this hard cheese from the milk of cows that grazed on the fresh grass of the Petit Val. Its cylindrical shape is reminiscent of a human skull, hence the name 'monk's head'. Back when I was a young boy, I remember going to fetch some at the dairies near to the village, at Moron or Châtelat. In those days there were no Girolles. Everything was done by hand: they started by cutting off the top, then, holding a knife by the tip of the blade with the handle pointing upwards, they scraped the cheese into shavings known as "rosettes" over the edge of the wheel. To preserve it, they would soak a cloth in white wine and salt, wrap the cheese in the cloth and put a skullcap over it. This method is still used today. As there were no fridges, they would put the cheese in the cellar."
Robert, a child of Bellelay
Tête de Moine AOP cheese is older than the Swiss Confederation (1291). The cheese of the monks of Bellelay is first mentioned a century before the birth of our country. Historical documents show that the precious cheese was used as a means of payment. At the end of the 18th century, the cheese from Bellelay was renamed "Tête de Moine". There are two possible explanations for the origin of this name:
A nickname dating from the revolutionary period (comparison between the shavings of the cheese and a monk's tonsure).
Stories told in the Jura relate that the quantity of cheese stored at the abbey was measured per "monk's head". The term was then extended to mean the cheese itself.
Good to know
- Tête de Moine cheese is not cut, but pared into the shape of delicate rosettes, either with a blade held at right angles to the surface, using the same method as that employed by the monks of the Bellelay abbey, or using a "Girolle", an ingenious device invented by Metafil SA in Lajoux and launched in 1982.
- You can visit the dairies at Bellelay, St-Imier, and Saignelégier .
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Interprofession Tête de Moine
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