News / Economy

Prayerful Nuns Produce Heavenly Cheese

Prayerful Nuns Produce Heavenly Cheesei
|| 0:00:00
X
October 01, 2012 3:59 PM
Gouda is a hard, wax-coated cheese, originally made in the Netherlands. But for the past 20 years, some nuns in Virginia have been making and selling their own version of the cheese. VOA’s Julie Taboh visited the sisters at their monastery to find out how their popular cheese is made and what secret ingredient makes it special.
Every day, at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, the 13 resident nuns gather for prayer.

Theirs is a simple Christian life of worship and meditation.

The sisters also follow the Benedictine tradition of combining prayer with work. For the past 20 years, they've made their own version of Gouda, the flavorful cheese which originated in the Netherlands.

Sister Barbara Smickel, who co-founded the monastery 25 years ago, says that while it is not the most important part of their life, work is still very important.

"I just think working for a living is a good thing…our life is pretty intense; there’s a lot of silence, a lot of prayer, a lot of meditation in it and I think the balance of using our bodies in a healthy way is very important for that,” she says. "We use our bodies and the gifts God has given us of mind and heart and body to support ourselves and we find a special satisfaction in making a wholesome product to do that.”

Making Gouda

They support themselves by making the Dutch-style Gouda, which they produce in a cheese barn just down the hill from the monastery.

It's an enterprise they inherited from the farm’s previous owner.
Sister Maria Gonzalo-Garcia checks the curds during the cheese-making process. (VOA/J. Taboh)Sister Maria Gonzalo-Garcia checks the curds during the cheese-making process. (VOA/J. Taboh)
x
Sister Maria Gonzalo-Garcia checks the curds during the cheese-making process. (VOA/J. Taboh)
Sister Maria Gonzalo-Garcia checks the curds during the cheese-making process. (VOA/J. Taboh)

The nuns start the cheese-making process with a truckful of warmed, pasteurized milk - more than 6,000 pounds [2,700 liters] - that’s piped into a giant stainless steel vat.

Cheese cook Sister Maria Gonzalo-Garcia adds a starter culture, which helps speed the process of turning the milk into cheese.

Mechanical paddles churn the mixture, and after half an hour, Sister Maria adds a synthetic rennet enzyme, which separates the milk into solids and liquid, known as curds and whey.

Magical moment

Sister Barbara refers to this as the magic time.

“Because it either sets up and turns into cheese, or it doesn’t," she says. "This is the time that we pray that it does happen. Now it’s up to the Lord to turn it into cheese.”

Today, the magic works and the cheese mixture is pumped into a giant vat where it's pressed into a solid block.

At this point, a machine could take over but the nuns prefer to do everything by hand.  They separate, weigh and pack the cheese into special plastic bowls called hoops, for a final pressing.
The cheese wheels are immersed in salt brine before being cured in a refrigeration room. (VOA/J. Taboh)The cheese wheels are immersed in salt brine before being cured in a refrigeration room. (VOA/J. Taboh)
x
The cheese wheels are immersed in salt brine before being cured in a refrigeration room. (VOA/J. Taboh)
The cheese wheels are immersed in salt brine before being cured in a refrigeration room. (VOA/J. Taboh)

It is very much a community effort, where all 13 of the sisters are involved in the process.

Sister Barbara recalls seeing a video once of a big cheese-making factory in Holland, where everything was computerized.

“My comment was, ‘Poor little cheese, never touched by human hands,’ so ours is, all day long, touched by human hands,” she says. “I think what makes our cheese special is the fact that part of our tradition is to do whatever you do as well as you can, whether it’s sweeping a floor or cooking the dinner or feeding the dog, or gardening or making cheese.”

Going to market

After their final pressing, the 2-pound [1-kilogram] wheels of buttery yellow cheese are soaked in salty water, cured in a refrigeration room and dipped in a special red wax before being shipped to customers across the United States.

The nuns expect to sell about 10,000 wheels of their hand-made Monastery Gouda by Christmas.
The finished product - gouda cheese made by the nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. (VOA/J. Taboh)The finished product - gouda cheese made by the nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. (VOA/J. Taboh)
x
The finished product - gouda cheese made by the nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. (VOA/J. Taboh)
The finished product - gouda cheese made by the nuns of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. (VOA/J. Taboh)

Eric Gertner buys 300 to 400 wheels a year, to sell in his specialty food store in nearby Charlottesville.

“We carry the monastery Gouda because the story behind it is really so compelling,” he says. “We have right here in our backyard a cheese made in ages-old monastic tradition…and they’re doing this to support and sustain their spiritual practice, so it’s just such a beautiful story. And the cheese is delicious in and of itself.”

Most of the nuns' business is done by mail order but customers can also buy cheese directly from the monastery.

“I think people buy it because it’s good, but also because they feel a certain solidarity with our way of life and want to support it in the way they can,” Sister Barbara says. “We try to put a lot of love and prayer into the cheese. We say that’s the secret ingredient.”

Whether it's luck or the power of prayer, the sisters have never, in the more than 20 years of Monastery cheese-making, had a single bad batch.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7866
JPY
USD
109.25
GBP
USD
0.6139
CAD
USD
1.1120
INR
USD
61.428

Rates may not be current.