Muenster Cheese: In A League Of Its Own
It’s a dilemma many families face. The grownups want a cheese with character, flavor, and “bar-none” quality… while the kids’ idea of excellence comes in plastic-wrapped slices of questionable origin. We have a solution: Next time family grilled cheese night rolls around, reach for a cheese that everyone will love for all the right reasons. It’s mild, mellow, melts like a champ, and is actually cheese. The kids will even love its name: Muenster.
Muenster Cheese History: Where Did It Come From?
For starters, Muenster is almost nothing like Munster (or Munster-géromé) cheese from France. It also has nothing to do with the Irish province of Munster or the German city of Münster, although Muenster would seem to be an Anglicized version of the German name. Here, then is a little Muenster cheese history:
The French Munster cheese comes from Alsace, that very German region of France that has changed hands between the two countries for centuries. (The German city of Münster is just across the Rhine in Westphalia, so maybe there’s more of a connection than is believed.) It is a washed-rind cheese on the order of Limburger, first made by Benedictine monks as a way to preserve milk. While Munster doesn’t have the overpowering smell of Limburger, it is a strong-tasting semi-soft cheese with a red-orange rind caused by the bacteria that give it its distinctive flavor.
French immigrants in the 19th century first figured out how to make Muenster cheese in Wisconsin. It’s likely that they were trying to imitate the French Munster, as the American version has the same semi-soft texture; however, its distinctive red-orange rind (if present) gets its color from annatto, the same natural vegetable dye that gives many Cheddars the familiar orange hue. And the Wisconsin version tastes nothing like the Alsatian original; because it does not go through the rind-washing and aging process, its flavor is very mellow with a pleasing tang, somewhat like a Monterey Jack. Because it truly has its own identity, Muenster may be considered one of the truly great original American cheeses.
Muenster Cheese Pronunciation
Muenster is pronounced either like “munster” (with a short u like bun) or “moonster” (with a short oo like book). Young children may think it’s cool to call it “monster”…and with its orange rind it’s a nice addition to a Halloween platter.
Muenster Cheese Uses
The smooth, mellow taste of Muenster is extremely versatile and adaptable to many dishes, so naturally, there’s no shortage of Muenster cheese recipes. Slice it for hot or cold sandwiches—it goes with any cold cuts—or cut it in cubes for a cheese tray.
Because it melts so wonderfully, with the perfect elasticity, Muenster is one of the finest additions to grilled cheese recipes. And those same characteristics—along with its food-friendly flavor that complements a wide variety of toppings—make it one of the best cheeses for cheeseburgers.
Muenster Cheese Pairings
Muenster pairs well with a variety of reds (pinot noir, Beaujolais, merlot, zinfandel) and dry to sweet whites (chardonnay, pinot gris/pinot grigio, riesling, grüner veltliner).
Belgian ales, brown and pale ales, lagers (including pilsners), and dark porters and stouts all go well with Muenster.
Apples, dried fruits, grapes, pears