Ever had a cheese platter which included little curled florets of cheese tucked in among the wedges and chunks? If so, what you were probably seeing was Swiss Tete de Moine cheese, and the tool used to make those florets was a cheese curler, the unusual device which you see pictured here, traditionally known as a “Girolle”. Boska, the maker of a variety of nicely designed tools and gadgets aimed at the cheese afficionado, recently sent me this cheese curler, along with a wheel of Fromage de Bellelay Tete de Moine, to give the girolle a whirl (literally and metaphorically).
The Boska Curler is nicely designed from an aesthetic perspective; it comes in a variety of bases (wood, marble, with accompanying glass dome), with stainless steel hardware that assembles quickly and easily. The pin in the center, onto which the cheese is seated, feels sturdy and punches through the wheel with ease, although you should give it a quick tighten before each use, as it does tend to loosen over time. The blade slides down and holds to the pin snugly, so that when you start turning the blade you don’t feel any wiggle. The blade itself is sturdy steel with a fine edge.
The actual operation of the curler is fairly straightforward: The cylinder of Tete de Moine is impaled on the middle pin, pressed down and snugly set into place against the teeth on the bottom, and the blade axle is then slipped down onto the pin until the edge of the blade just touches the top surface of the cheese.
Once you have the wheel set and ready to shave, you’ll want to give it a few turns to remove the top layer of rind from the Tete de Moine (you could also slice it off before mounting the cheese), as the first curls, if they’re all rind, will neither taste good nor look particularly appealing.
So, now that the cheese is on the curler, the blade is in place, and the top surface has been trimmed, we’re ready to start cranking out perfect cheese blossoms, right? Well…not exactly. The Cheese Curler is one of those devices that requires a delicate touch. You don’t want to apply too much pressure, as you’ll just end up with thick, heavy curls. Too light a touch, though, and you might not get a continuous sheet coming off the curler. You want to hit that sweet spot, where the blade is skimming the surface and the cheese is curling up, paper thin, without being too thick or thin. I’ll be the first to admit that it took a few tries to develop the perfect touch and my florets ended up thicker than I would have liked. I attribute this to user error though; the device itself worked well, I just need to perfect my technique, and by the end I was producing some florets that I was happy with.
In theory, you could use the curler to shave most any kind of cheese that could be seated on the pin. In practice though, Tete de Moine is ideally suited for this use; in fact, the format of Tete is specifically designed to be used with a girolle, and it would be fairly uncommon, in Switzerland, to come across a Tete de Moine that was served as wedges on a cheese plate (although it is available in cheese shops by the pound in the U.S., and there’s no reason, in theory, why it couldnt be eaten as such). However, the curling method allows maximum air contact with the surface of the cheese, allowing the flavors to develop and open up more effectively than they would as a wedge, and it definitely the recommended method of serving.
So what’s the story with the cheese itself? The name means “monk’s head”, a cheeky reference to the shaved pates of the monks of Bellalay Abbey, in the Bernese Jura region of Switzerland, who first created this cheese many centuries ago, and invented the Girolle as well as a way of slicing it. The outside of the cheese is pink and slightly sticky, with a washed rind pungency. The dense, semi-firm paste has a fruity, nutty flavor; this wheel was on the mild side, I’d love to try the Reserve version of the same cheese from Emmi, which is aged longer. (I’ll review the cheese itself at a later date).
The last photograph in this set is my cheese plate from Strasbourg, France’s La Cloche a Fromage, the best cheese restaurant in Alsace, with perfect Tete de Moine blossoms on display. I’ll have to keep practicing until I can produce that!
You can see a video of the Boska cheese curler in action here.
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