If you passed through Northern Alsace today you may have noticed a strange, discomforting odour wafting westward across the Rhine valley? Happily for you, if it smelt like something across between a cow’s arse and a rotting corpse, I may be able to help identify the source: the Munster cheese festival in Rosheim.
Munster is Alsace’s only ‘appellation’ cheese, and famous for it’s incredible odour when left to mature. An odour that becomes odious if by accident you leave it on a window-sill in summertime (although that is said to improve the flavour). While the smell of Munster may be enough to convince your nose to tell your brain “don’t eat this stuff” it is usually not enough to convince most French people to avoid it; and rightly so, because if you can fight past that incredible stench, you will discover that it is in fact an astoundingly tasty cheese. (Right up there with Stinking Bishop)
Although no-one is quite sure, it is said that the recipe for the cheese was introduced to Alsace by Munster-Irish monks in the 9th century (who no doubt were always fond of the odd practical joke), and left to the occupants of Gregorian monastery in the high Vosges to continue production down through the centuries. Whether this is true, no-one seems to know, or indeed whether the town that shares its name preceded the cheese itself, or was founded afterwards. But let’s be honest – no-one really cares – as long as it tastes good on a slice of bread!
So today, over a thousand years later, in the beautiful little town of Rosheim, whilst watching some traditional Alsation dancing, I had the opportunity to taste various Munster-based recipes:
- Tarte Flambee with Munster
- Munster stew
- Munster sausage
- Munster gratin
- Munster sorbet
- Munster ice cream
- Sweet Munster pudding
A feast for the senses if ever there were! My eyes are still watering…