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Dec 27, 2012 08:10 AM

Tête de Moine Bellelay -- a head on a platter!

Just a heads-up to keep an open option to what has been the favorite cheese of the season this year chez Sunshine:

Tête de Moine Bellelay (tête de moine translates as "head of the monk")

This is a Swiss AOC raw-milk cheese, produced by the monks of the abbey at Bellelay, near Berne.

While it can be planed with a cheese plane, it's best served with a girolle, a device that shaves just a paper-thin layer from the top of the block. As it's peeled away, the cheese rolls and curls into a rosette, nice for use as a garnish.

If you don't want to fuss with the girolle (which captivates kids...) -- you can sometimes buy the rosettes pre-shaved.

Firm, butter-colored, and nutty like a good Comte, it's a really nice addition to cheese plates, and, as we have found, just for wandering through the kitchen and grabbing a nibble.

more information:

(full disclaimer: I have absolutely no connection with the makers of this cheese, social, economic, or otherwise)

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  1. I can't honestly say that Tête de Moine is a personal favorite (although I like it), but then there are so many other fantastic cheeses from Switzerland! I'll also admit that I don't own a girolle, despite having all sorts of other cheese knives and tools. At $70.00, and useful only for this one cheese, it's not something I would use often enough to justify the cost, although it does make the pretty cheese curls that are the authentic way to serve the cheese. Only a few cheese shops in the US sell Tête de Moine, as it is not a cheese that has caught on with American public, probably because people here aren't sure what to do with it.

    5 Replies
    1. re: cheesemaestro

      there was a promo at Auchan last week, where they gave you a hard-plastic girolle if you bought the whole (800g) cheese.

      I have to confess to having folded at the offer of having the toy along with the food...but the plastic girolle works quite well, and it's been a hit at all the parties this busy season.

      Just pointing it out, as while I saw it listed online for quite a few retailers, I figured it's not something that just everyone is familiar thought I'd mention it as a nice alternative to Emmental or Cantal or Comte (I still love me my old Comte with little crystals....)

      I wouldn't put it down as my all-time must-have, but it's tasty, not punishingly expensive, and has a schtick that makes it a little different than most other cheeses.

      (the girolle can also be used to shave chocolate (white or milk; dark doesn't work well) -- so while it's not a daily-use item, it's at least not completely a unitasker...)

      1. re: cheesemaestro

        Rereading my post, I find that it sounds more negative than I intended it to be. I certainly didn't mean to "yuck your yum." It is definitely a cheese worth trying and not one that comes up often in discussions of cheese on CH. In case anyone reading this thread is interested, Murray's in NYC currently has Tête de Moine in stock.

        1. re: cheesemaestro

          and I do promise, as I discover cheeses that might have broader appeal if more people knew about them, to look online first and see if it's actually available (even if only in limited quantities) in the US before I blather on too much....

          Frustrating, I know, to read about something wonderful that you can't get your hands on....

          1. re: sunshine842

            Well, it IS available in the US, and it is definitely a cheese worth pointing out. (And, of course, not everyone on Chowhound lives in the US.) Besides Murrays, I also found the cheese (via an Internet search) at the Ideal Cheese Shop in NYC, at the Cheese Shop of Beverly Hills, at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA and at, which sells by mail order only. No doubt there are a few places I missed, most likely in other big "foodie" cities, like San Francisco and Chicago. We're more likely to see it in the US during the cold months. Still, it remains a connoisseur's cheese over here, with a limited number of devotees.

            1. re: cheesemaestro

              (also trying to make sure that our new cheese forum stays active!)

              and if it's at igourmet, then it's available at Amazon, too.

      2. As l have a 7 piece collection of quite old girolles, l am a big fan of TdM, l also can use the girolle on harder Basque sheep's milk cheeses as Petite Agour and an older Petite Basque.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          Standing behind a lady buying a Petite Basque today, I was wondering if a girolle would work on it -- glad to know it does!

          1. re: sunshine842

            Of course, Petit Basque can easily be cut with a regular knife or shaved with a cheese plane, but I agree that it's the right size to work with a girolle.

            How is the quality of Petit Basque where you buy it? Deluca also mentions Petit Agour, which is a similar cheese in size and shape to Petit Basque. In the US, I have consistently found PA to be superior to PB, on a par with Agour's larger format cheese. Most of the PB we get over here is from industrial production and, to my palate, disappoints.

            1. re: cheesemaestro

              I like Petite Basque and wouldn't walk away from it, but to be honest, it's not one of my favourites - especially when I can buy so many sheep's-milk cheeses from the Basque region.

              PB (and P'tit Basque) here is mostly industrial, as well -- but am making the mental note that other similarly-sized and -textured cheeses could be shaved with a girolle as well.