Located near Losne in Burgundy, France, Abbaye de Citaux is home to one of the most traditional and classic monastic washed rind cheeses of Europe.
The monks at the Abbaye de Cîteaux make cheese of the same name using the milk of their own herd of red and white Montbéliarde cows. The cows graze the flat meadows surrounding the abbey for at least 6 months of the year.
Although there is little left of the great Medieval building, as it was destroyed shortly after the French Revolution, it remains the spiritual center of the Cistercian Order, and is open to the public for guided tours.
The Abbey has a Benedictine foundation dating back to 1098 when the monks from Cluny settled in Cîteaux, wishing to follow a more disciplined way of life. (It is the Abbey at Citeaux that gave its name to the reformed order of "Cistercians").
The monks originally focused on wine making, cultivating vines on the Côte d'Or and also building the Château du Clos de Vougeot. During the 19th century the Abbey was destroyed, and it was only after they returned that they took up cheesemaking.
Today, the creamery at Abbaye de Citeaux is run by Frère Frédéric, and Frère Joel is master cheesemaker. Production is small, with only 300 cheeses made every Monday and Tuesday, the majority of which are sold through the Abbey's shop (the sales represent 50% of the Abbey's income).
After production, cheeses mature for three weeks at a temeprature of 37.4° F and are washed with a brine solution to encourage the growth of the Bacterium Linens mold. By the third week the rinds have become pale orange in color and sometimes lightly covered with a white bloomy mold.
The aroma of Abbaye de Citeaux is fairly pungent and stronger than the flavor of the cheese. The texture is semisoft and pliable, with a smooth, dense interior paste that is ivory-white in color with occasional small holes.
Flavors are clean, milky, earthy and pleasantly barnyardy with a gentle acidity and a lingering finish.