The city of Münster is the cheese capital of Alsace, thanks to the eponymously named wheels of cheese crafted there. Münster, one of the great jewels of the cheese world,was created at an abbey in this this idyllic river valley more than 650 years ago. Münster is so important to Alsace that there is a Route des Fromages (just as there is a Route du Vin): a beautiful trip through pastures, forests and on into the Vosges.
Anecdotally, one can trace Münster back to the eleventh century, but the first written accounting of it is contained in a 1339 treaty between the Abbey of St. Gregory--the reputed point of origin for the cheese--and the city of Münster which had built up around the abbey over the previous 650 years.
The Character of Münster
I am a huge fan of Münster. It has a tang that is subtle and inspiringly soulful. The creamy texture softens its tartness, highlighting an ineffable elusiveness. But...it stinks. Literally. The red bacteria used to make Münster in combination with the washed rind process makes the cheese reek in a vivid fashion. It can be hard to convince cheese newbies to endure the aroma long enough to eat the stuff. The cheese imported to the U.S. is Münster-Gérômé, which is made specifically on the bald top of the Vosges near Münster. Occasionally one can find other options like Münster-Lisbeth, but since Münster doesn't hold up well for long periods in the distribution pipeline, the smaller production Münsters are typically imported only with a pre-planned destination. By the time the cheese hits the table in the U.S., it is difficult to know how fresh it is, and it can quickly become ammoniated, which is not ideal. If you see it, buy it and try it out right away. It'll stink up the place, but it's so worth it! Especially if you have a glass of...
Gewurztraminer and Münster
Münster is the classic companion for Gewurztraminer, and can often offers an entrée into that boldly characterful wine (for those who are shocked, or at least not immediately captured by Gewurztraminer’s rather slutty charms). I have heard some people say that Gewurztraminer can perform the same favor for Münster, but the cheese is a much smaller hurdle.
If you want red wine, Cru Beaujolais is a classic companion. I think mature Moulin-à-Vent is just perfect, but since that is something of a specialty, wines from the Cru of Morgon are excellent options.
Münster at the Table
There are several ways to consume Münster, the most basic and common being with bread. I also like to cut off the top rind (the rind is edible) and sprinkle cumin seeds on it (others prefer caraway). Leftover Münster is commonly mixed with fromage blanc, crème fraîche, garlic, onions, and herbs (I like chervil and flat-leaf parsley) to make a concoction called Bibalakas, which is traditionally served with fried or steamed potato wedges and field greens. Bibalakas makes for pretty hearty fare, but it is quite a feast!
Münster has almost nothing in common with the Wisconsin sandwich cheese we call Muenster--it is, and this is my opinion of course, infinitely better. (Though I do promote the use of Muenster on your sandwich--if you haven't tried it, you should! I particularly enjoy it with roast beef, and in a ham and cheese omelet.)
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