A French monastery in the heart of Burgundy launched an emergency online sale to get rid of thousands of its prized artisanal cheeses, which are languishing in its cellars as Covid-19 keeps buyers away.

The Citeaux abbey just south of Dijon, birthplace of the Cistercian Catholic order, usually sells its raw-milk, semi-soft discs only to restaurants or visitors who make the trek to its on-site shop.

But a drop in demand since the coronavirus crisis erupted last year has left the abbey's 19 Trappist monks with 4,000 cheeses too many - the equivalent of 2.8 tonnes.

"We tried explaining to our 75 cows that they needed to produce less milk but they don't seem to have understood," brother Jean-Claude, in charge of marketing at the monastery founded in 1098, told AFP.

"Our sales are down nearly 50%," he said, with French restaurants still closed since 30 October as authorities try to curb a third wave of cases. "We need to clear out our stock."

It's a sin for fans of a cheese made by the monks since 1925, which won the silver medal at last year's international food and drink competition in Lyon, a bastion of France's culinary heritage.

The monks teamed with the internet start-up Divine Box, which sells products made by abbeys in France and elsewhere, with a goal of selling at least a tonne of cheese by Tuesday.

The minimum order is two wheels at €23 each, plus shipping.

"We're going to make it," Jean-Claude said, with more than 700 kilogrammes already ordered according to the site.