Our Lady of the Angels website
I recommend giving this article a read not only because I'm a huge cheese-lover, but also because this is just so interesting! Voice of America took a deeper look into the Sisters and their lifestyle, how they make their Gouda cheese, and why they think cheese is better with the touch of human hands instead of machinery (and be sure to check out the full article that also contains a behind-the-scenes video of the Sisters making the cheese!):
CROZET, VIRGINIA — 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.