Munkeby; a cheese made by monks
Ever since I started this blog, my purpose and desire have remained to spread my knowledge about Norwegian cuisine through my native Norwegian experience living abroad, as well as trying to increase people’s awareness of my country’s food and traditions. Mainly because I felt whenever “Scandinavian food” was mentioned, everybody’s thoughts always went to Sweden or Denmark. I heard of “Swedish meatballs” and Danish “smørrebrød” and nobody had knowledge of any Norwegian food. Norway fell in the background somehow, and when questioned if they could name a Norwegian dish, people’s faces would turn into a huge question mark.
Since I live in the U.S. now, my initial focus has been to share my recipes (both traditional and modern), stories and experiences growing up in the fjord country of Norway, with all my fellow Americans, but now my readers have shown to come from all over the world and I’m so delighted to hear from all of you and to find out you enjoy some of the posts I’ve put out. Norway is not just about smoked salmon, “gjetost” and herring – we actually have developed quite a refined cuisine, and one of the foods I thoroughly think we could compete with the rest of the world is: Cheese!
I realize I have written a lot about cheese lately, mostly Jarlsberg and gjetost, since these two cheeses are available in this country and my readers can get a hold of them. But sometimes I need to write about products that are less known, in the hopes that someone will read this and get encouraged to import it! So with that intro – let me present: MUNKEBY Cheese!!
This cheese is a semi soft washed cheese made from raw cow’s milk. It is different from Brie, and connoisseurs will immediately realize that when smelling the aromas and by its feel and consistency. With a sharp flavor, the consistency is creamy and melts slowly in the mouth. The rind, which is fine and smooth, is washed by hand during the five week’s aging process. The cheese is aged in a cellar on spruce planks and is turned daily. The cheese is unpasteurized and completely natural without any additives. Not necessarily easy to come by in Norway either because it is produced in such small quantities, it has become quite the sought after delicacy.
This is such a unique cheese, as it is produced by four monks in the first new monastery founded by the Abbaye de Citeaux since the 15th century (I encourage you to read about the history of the Abbey of Citeaux separately). Before arriving at the Munkeby monastery in Norway in 2006, the brothers Father Cyril and Father Joe had both been responsible for the fromagerie in Citeaux for over 50 years between the two of them. Here’s a photo of the French version:
There is not a whole lot of information about the original monastery Munkeby, located in Frol by Levanger. The Cistercian convent was well established before 1180, most likely founded by Lyse convent close to Bergen and shut down before Lyse founded the monastery at Tautra in 1207. The farm at Munkeby remained in operation under the Tautra convent until the reform period. The ruins continued to speak to the people of Frol, who kept the monks’ traditions alive. To the French monk’s big surprise (and the locals in Frol) they were met by Norwegian farmers who had read Saint Bernard when they arrived in Norway in 2006. Here are the four cheese making monks from left to right: Brother Cyril, Brother Arnaud, Brother Joel and Brother Bruno:
Image from Ivar Kvaal, dn.no
The locals had dreamed about founding a new monastery in the area, and the French monks had a desire to live a simpler convent life than the one in the larger, more complicated monastery organizations found in France. They finally, after much discussion and planning with the locals, decided to build the convent at a farm in town that was currently shut down. Building a Catholic convent in today’s Norway certainly opens up to a lot of challenges and the need for communication and cooperation between the people, but the monks believed building a dairy farm would help bring the community together, helping the monks to understand daily life in Norway and also to learn the language. There is the quick story of how the cheese came about!
The top quality milk used to make the Munkeby cheese comes from two neighboring farms in the area, and the brothers combine their experience to make a wonderful cheese that is based on both new and traditional methods. The careful handling of the fresh milk keeps and develops a natural fullness and characteristics throughout the aging process.
Munkeby cheese has now become so popular in Norway that the monks no longer can keep up with demand. It has become the darling of many famous chefs and top restaurants in the country and the cheese has won several prizes in cheese competitions. As one Norwegian chef, Tom-Victor Gausdal, wrote in a recent article: “In a way, I wish I were the only person who knew about this cheese, but some secrets are so great they just have to be shared!”
To properly be able to enjoy this cheese, I recommend eating it in the simplest of forms; spread it on home made crackers or fresh bread, with a nice glass of wine (or aquavit!). Maybe even rolled up in a Norwegian lompe (potato flat bread, almost like a tortilla) with some sliced bell peppers and cucumbers or fresh sliced apples – get the recipe for lompe here.
If you can’t get a hold of Munkeby but want to get a similar idea of how the cheese tastes, try Reblochon, Brillant Savarin or Epoisses, all available in the U.S. Then when you are in Norway get the real deal!
Note: The information in this article was taken from the Munkeby Monastery’s website www.munkeby.net