News / Economy

Prayerful Nuns Produce Heavenly Cheese

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

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9220
JPY
USD
119.88
GBP
USD
0.6757
CAD
USD
1.2640
INR
USD
62.626

Rates may not be current.