Authentic Munster cheese is made only from the milk of cows that graze in a designated area in the Vosges mountains in the east of France. It is a soft white cheese with a reddish-orange washed rind and is noted for its strong smell and pronounced taste.
Like most cheese in France, Munster has a long tradition behind it. Many centuries ago this cheese was made by Benedictine monks who had migrated to the Alsace region of France. Apparently the monks had vowed to forgo meat and were dependant upon dairy products for a part of their nourishment. Eventually the savoir-faire for creating this cheese was passed on to the local population.
The origins of this cheese are recalled to us in its name. The word munster derives from the word monastary and you will also find the village of Munster in the Vosges mountains, testimony to the ancient inhabitants of this land.
Where to Buy Munster
Unless you visit France, you'll probably be unable to find AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlée) Munster made from unpasteurized cow's milk. Even here in France most of the Munster available in the grocery store is made from pasteurized milk. Although connoisseurs say it lacks some of the flavor of an unpasteurized product, a pastuerized Munster makes a reasonable substitute especially if you are going to cook with this cheese.
Don't confuse Munster with Meunster cheese which actually looks quite similar. Muenster cheese, which is more similar to a German cheese of the same name, is a popular cheese to cook with as well, but its flavor is much less pronounced.
How to Enjoy Munster
Like most cheese, allow Munster to reach room temperature before enjoying it. If you plan to serve a cheese course after your main course, take the cheese out of the refrigerator right before dinner and it will be ready on time.
Munster is best appreciated with something substantial: rye bread is the classic accompaniment.
Gewerztraminer, which comes from the Alsace region as well, is the most frequently recommended wine to have with this cheese. But nothing should stop you from trying it with a beer as well.
The orange red rind is edible, but some people find it a bit harsh and bitter flavored, so you may prefer to remove it.
Munster is sometimes served with a small bowl of whole cumin seeds which are munched on along with the cheese.
Cooking with Munster
Munster is a great cheese to cook with because it melts easily into dishes. It is traditionally paired with oinons and potatoes. Tartiflette, a potato cheese casserole that officially hails from further south in the Savoy region of France, becomes Munster Coiffée (Munster with a good hair cut I suppose) when you use Munster cheese.