Munster cheese – not to be confused with mild-tasting American Muenster cheese – is a strong-tasting cow’s milk cheese made in the Vosges Mountains, in eastern France near the border with Germany. It is a soft cheese that is cylindrical in shape and is white in color, although the color of the crust can vary from yellow-orange to red-orange. It’s made mainly using the milk of Vosgien cattle, a breed especially adapted to the rough Vosges mountain climate.
This type of cheese, which has benefited from a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status since 1969, has deep historical connections to its area of production. According to local legends, the cheese first appeared in the area either at the arrival of an Irish monk who brought it with him while passing through the area or in the time of Charlemagne, when monks came to spread Christianity in the area.
It was so highly valued that peasants would even use the cheese to pay their taxes.
In the 9th century, the current Munster recipe was created by monks from “Monasterium Confluentes,” which over time became the city of Munster. The recipe was originally designed to preserve milk and to feed the growing population that was drawn to the monastery.
Munster can be made either with pasteurized or raw cow’s milk. Its finished size ranges from 13 to 19 centimeters in diameter and weighs between about 1 and three pounds. The maturing process takes at least 21 days, during which time the cheese is hand rubbed with brine and turned over. The brine is used to add moisture to help in the growth of a harmless type of bacteria that gives the cheese its particular taste and color.
The cheese is well known for having a rather strong odor, but in contrast the taste of the cheese is quite pleasant. It is often associated with the caraway seeds that it is frequently served with and is also one of the types of cheese that can be used to make quiches or omelettes.