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Gouda is a hard, wax-coated cheese, originally made in the Netherlands.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

Turkey: No Ransom Paid for Release of Hostages Held by IS Militants

President Erdogan hails release of hostages as diplomatic success but declines to be drawn on whether their release freed Ankara's hand to take more active stance against insurgents More

Audio Sierra Leone Official Pleased With Ebola Containment Measure

Official says three-day sensitization effort will help reduce infection rate of Ebola disease nationwide More

US Pivot to Asia Demands Delicate Balancing Act

As the tumult in the Middle East distracts Obama, shifting American focus eastward appears threatened 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7768
JPY
USD
108.84
GBP
USD
0.6124
CAD
USD
1.0999
INR
USD
61.042

Rates may not be current.