Bellelay is the name of the abbey founded in 1136 by Sigenand, Provost of Münster (Moutier) Cathedral, now part of the Swiss Jura. There are differing views on the origins of the name (see Burkhalter, page 8).
The first recorded mention of the "Bellelay Cheese" is in a letter, dated 16 August 1570, from the then Abbot of Bellelay Abbey to the Prince-Bishop of Basel. The letter mentions "dryssig belleley Kess" (thirty belleley cheeses), which the Abbot had supplied.
Tête de Moine (Monk's Head)
Bellelay cheese got another name towards the end of the 18th century: "Tête de Moine". The first mention in the archives of the Department of Mont-Terrible - the area had been annexed by the French and converted to a "département" - dates from around 1793-1799. It is a print entitled: "Tableau du maximum des objects de première nécessité" ("A comprehensive list of the primary necessities").
Nickname from the revolutionary period (comparison between the shavings of the cheese and a monk's tonsure).
In the Jura tradition has it that the store of cheeses in the abbey was counted per "monk's head". Hence the name "Tête de Moine".
These days, the prevailing designation for the cheese is "Tête de Moine".