Cheese: Munster Fermier
Producer: Ferme Schott & Ferme du Lameysberg
Where: Breitenbach, Alsace, France
The real Munster, cheese experts will tell you, has nothing to do with the cheese that is sold as such in the US, or the version that is linked to the eponymous city in Germany. Munster is a small town in the Vosges Mountains of Alsace, Northwestern France, close to Basel, and during a visit to our Basel office it seemed like a great idea to venture out into the countryside to find a Munster Fermier, buy it directly from a cheese farmer and say hi to the cows, the Vosgesiennes, a breed that is specific to the area (but Munster doesn’t necessarily need to come from milk of these cows). The mottled white & black animals apparently don’t mind the sometimes inclement mountain weather of the high pastures. In winter they are brought down to the farm and I guess purists would stay away from the cheese made from winter milk: the cows eat hay, not that nice mix of grass, herbs and wildflowers that grow in the meadows of the Vosges.
The plan seemed simply enough, and I took a colleague along for the ride. There is a cheese museum of sorts in a town close to Munster and farms that sell cheese are clearly mapped on a website that provides lots of information about Alsace’s most famous cheese. Alas, the cheese museum was closed for winter (the website didn’t spill those beans) and one of the obvious candidate farms was closed for lunch. When we came back after lunch, there was a handwritten sign on the door that said “Out on an errand, back in 20”. 20 minutes came and went and poor Molly must have regretted that she joined what tuned out to be a mad quest for fromage fermier.
In the end, we got our Munsters in Colmar, a very charming little town not far from the Rhine. It’s a major tourist draw in southern Alsace, and it was the home of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the man who sculpted some nice fountains and other statuary. Oh yah, and that lady that stands in New York Harbor, welcoming the poor, tired, huddled masses….
Munsters are stinky, there’s no 2 ways about it. Really stinky. We came home to the hotel in Basel and ate our cheese with some dried Bündnerfleisch and drank a vendanges tardives Gewürztraminer with it. The Munster from Hubert Schott was still young, and as such the flavor was surprisingly mild. You would expect such a stinky cheese to be quite a mouthful. The Munster from the Ferme du Lameysberg was riper and here, the flavor was more robust. All in all worth the quest (we never did see any Vosgesiennes) but for January, the top ranking still goes to the Rush Creek Reserve.