It would be hard to live in France and not regularly discover a new cheese, one that you’d never enjoyed. My latest find is Tête de Moine, which actually comes from Switzerland but which makes a wonderful addition (I think) to a classic dish from the Périgord (the former name of what is now the Dordogne).
My discovery took place a few Saturdays ago, when my wife Jan and I were shopping at the Carrefour supermarket in Gourdon. On Saturdays, I’ve learned, there are a couple of wicker trays just outside the long cheese counter, offering free samples of one or more cheeses. Since we’re usually shopping late on Saturday mornings, after a rousing workout in our aquafitness class, I’m hungry and ready to try something new. Weeks earlier, this is how I first came across aged Gouda, a medium-firm cheese full of tiny delicious crystals.
So the supermarket sampling was my first exposure to Tête de Moine, a pale yellow cheese that appeared to be sliced very finely and curled up into little fans. Its taste was lovely — mild and delicate, and a bit salty. What I’ve since learned is that Monk’s Head (which is what the name means) was created by Swiss monks in Switzerland’s Jura Mountains, is now exported widely (who knew?), and has earned appellation d’origine controlée status.
What’s most unusual is the way that Tête de Moine is served. First, a circle of it is impaled on a spike, which is fixed on a round board. Then a knife is rotated around the spike, paring off a thin sliver of the cheese, which is then shaped into a little fan called a rosette. (Don’t worry — I have a photo soon.) The cheese that we bought had already been pared, and was packaged as a round tray of rosettes.
My idea was to try the little rosettes in a modified salade périgourdine, which usually does not include any cheese. The true salade périgourdine is a classic of the Greater Daglan Area, and features lettuce dressed in a vinaigrette and topped with walnut pieces, slices of gésier de canard confit (preserved duck gizzards), and very thin slices of smoked duck breast.
My variation omits the gizzards, but adds the rosettes of the Tête de Moine. My wife made a vinaigrette with walnut oil (of course!) and a raspberry vinegar. For the smoked duck breast, we bought a packet of the Reflets de France brand — a wonderful brand created by Carrefour to feature authentic French foods. (We regularly buy Reflets de France walnut pieces, Armagnac, sausages — you name it.) The duck meat was moist and tender, which is more than I can say about some of the tough, stringy, dry meat I’ve been served in various restaurants.
We had a larger serving last night, for dinner. And we liked it so much that we made the salad again today for lunch as an entrée, served before the herb-crusted roast leg of lamb and whipped potatoes. And here it is:
Adding it up — fresh lettuce, crunchy walnut pieces, smoky duck meat, sweet vinaigrette, and delicate cheese rosettes from neighbouring Switzerland– I think we have another classic on our hands.
Just don’t try telling that to a native of the Périgord.