Traditional Munster cheese is made in Alsace, France, and should not be confused with more mild versions made in other parts of the world. A true Munster has a creamy yellow to orange center with a dark red rind, and can be noted by the assertive flavor and scent, although young Munsters are more mild. Adapted to American tastes, many dairies in the United States have made a much milder version of the cheese which bears no comparison to the traditional French cheese.
Munster has been made in Alsace since the Middle Ages, and was initially made in monasteries by monks who wanted to find a way to preserve their dairy products. Traditional Munster is made in Alsace by only a handful of dairies who still use raw milk and follow a prescribed series of steps which result in a formidable cheese. Munster is a washed cheese, which means that the rind of the cheese is periodically washed during the manufacture of the cheese. This contributes to the flavor of the cheese, along with the strong smell.
Making Munster begins with forming curds, which are pressed into cheese molds and drained. Traditionally, the cheese is aged outside for one week before being brought indoors and stored with older Munsters, so that it can acquire the unique rind flora which distinguishes the cheese. Every other day, the cheese is washed and brushed with a mixture of salt brine and coloring, resulting in a thick, bright red rind.
Depending on how long the cheese is allowed to mature, Munster will develop a strong and slightly acidic flavor to go with the tangy scent. Munster is aged for a minimum of two months, at which point it will be soft, creamy, and relatively flavorless. If allowed to age longer, the cheese will develop more distinctive bacteria, and this aged Munster is preferred by many cheese consumers.
Munster is delicious eaten plain, although it also plays a role in traditional cuisine, appearing in quiche especially. The flavor of the cheese is popular on bread, dessert plates, or with potatoes, a common food in the Alsace region. While the smell may be off putting to some consumers, it is well worth tasting when an aged Munster can be obtained.
Numerous dairies all over the world make Munster, but only a handful in Alsace have preserved the traditional way of making Munster, including the laborious hand care of the cheese. Certain Munsters, such as Munster Lisbeth, are protected origin designation cheeses, meaning that they must be made in a certain way by certain dairies to be labeled and sold as Munster Lisbeth. By protecting certain Munsters, it is hoped that the culinary heritage of the cheese will be preserved for eager cheese consumers in years to come.