On a 2-week vacation to Amsterdam a few years ago, we had time to take several day trips to other cities including some that we knew because of their connection to food; Edam and Gouda, for example. According to the National Interprofessional Center for the Dairy Economy there are at least 1200 types of cheese in France, many of them named for the place where it’s produced. We live about 150 km (93 miles) from Roquefort with its famous “Blue” and how often have we had baked Brie or a round of Camembert? On our recent stay in the region of Alsace, we were looking for towns near our base of Mulhouse when “Munster” caught our attention on the map. We remembered the sound-a-like Muenster cheese from the US so we wanted to see if this might be where that originated.
When we told our neighbor that we’d be visiting Munster she got an odd look on her face and said, “Too strong!”, explaining that she didn’t like the smell of the cheese produced there. Oh well, too late since we already had our train tickets and we were determined to make the best of it.
We’d downloaded the city’s walking map (link below) that was especially easy to follow since we could start at the train station. From there we went to see where the city got its start in the year 660 with the establishment of a monastery. The 17th century ruins of the abbey are all that remain today but the archways and stairs are still impressive. The watermill that the monks used is still there and although it no longer grinds wheat it continues to regulate the flow of water in the canal that crosses the city.
At the main crossroads in town, Place du Marché, I felt that there was a standoff of church vs. church and State vs. Church. We stood in front of the Protestant church on the west end of the square and looked toward the east end to see the Catholic church. Then on the north end was the government’s City Hall looking across to the Abbot’s Palace. In the middle, however, is a symbol of peace, the Lion Fountain (featured photo above) installed in 1575 after the signing of the Treaty of Kintzheim that granted non-Catholics the ability to practice the Lutheran religion.
The map then took us along the path where the town walls, built in 1308 once stood, to a building that survived the massive bombardment of World War I that destroyed 85% of the town. The Maison Krieger served as a guardhouse/caretaker’s home for the textile factory that was founded in 1776. We then passed by some other survivors of the war including the hospital’s dispensary, an 18th century factory that became a home in 1860, a house from 1823, and the elementary school given to the city in 1859.
All of that walking made us hungry so it was time to try out the city’s namesake cheese. What better place than a winstub describing itself as being like a “little mountain inn with a typical Alsatian ambiance”. On their menu we turned directly to the “specialties” page that featured traditional plates and tartes flambées (kind of like thin, crispy crust pizzas) all graced with melted, stinky, Munster cheese, yum!
The answer to the question, “Did the American Muenster cheese originate in Munster, France?” the response is indeed, “Oui” but the immigrants who took the recipe with them to Wisconsin probably would have said, “Ja”. That part of Alsace belonged to Germany when the cheese was introduced to the USA in the mid-1800s (more information in our blog post Germany in France).
Restaurant Winstub S’Stewla website https://winstub-stewla.fr/