“Banishment of the corporeal, or sexual, into pure biology, all the talk about the 'merely biological', is consequently the exact antithesis of what faith intends. For faith tells us of the spirituality of the biological as well as the corporeality of the spiritual and divine. On this point the choice is between all or nothing.”
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Daughter Zion)
The Abbey of Regina Laudis dairy began in 1975 when our first dairy cow Sheba was given to us by a local farmer Sherwood Wright. That same year we became a Connecticut State Licensed Dairy and have been designated as a Dairy of Distinction since 1976. We are among the few dairies in Connecticut to hold licenses for raw milk production and retail sales. Through our monastic obligation to wise land stewardship and preservation of traditional techniques, we have been at the forefront of the local foods and environmental movements long before they were popular issues. We focus on sustainable practices including rotational grazing, and composting of all manure. We grow and harvest our own hay. Our small herd of hand-milked cows provides milk, cheese, butter and ice cream for our community and guests. Aged raw milk cheeses, including our Bethlehem and farmstead cheddar-type, and fresh pasteurized cheeses are available seasonally at our Art Shop.
Since 1991 we have been devoted to the preservation and conservation of heritage breeds of cattle, particularly the Dutch Belted and now the Milking Shorthorn. We began raising Dutch Belts when we received our first pair of oxen. As we moved toward a more sustainable grass based system, we realized that the Dutch Belts' qualities were just right for our small-scale, hand milking operation. Both Dutch Belts and Milking Shorthorns are well-rounded breeds, of medium build with good longevity. They are excellent grazers with first-rate milk components, high protein, butterfat and milk solids. These breeds are well suited for grass based dairying and their milk is excellent for the small scale production of dairy products.
In 1977 the Abbey began making Bethlehem cheese, a St. Nectaire-type cheese, the technique of which was shared by a third-generation cheese maker from Cézallier in the Auvergne, France. Bethlehem cheese is a pressed, uncooked, semi-hard, fungal-ripened cheese. The cheese is made from raw milk and commercial cultures of starter bacteria or fungi are never added during production or the 60-day ripening period. In our cheese cellar we observed over time that certain fungi grew naturally on the cheese rinds in a way that was reproducible and predictable and paralleled the course of ripening of traditional St. Nectaire cheese in the Auvergne. Bethlehem cheese thus provided a model for the study of stable microbial succession during ripening in a natural environment and became the basis of graduate research in dairy microbial ecology at the University of Connecticut. There is a growing interest in natural or native strains of microorganisms that contribute to aroma and consistency of cheese as consumers seek products that embody terroir or the “taste of place” where they were made.
Other cheeses being produced at our dairy are: mozzarella, ricotta, a cow's milk Feta-type,and a farmstead cheddar-type. Our line of pasteurized soft-curd cheeses such as cottage cheese, crème fraîche, herb cheese spread and cream cheese which are very popular, will be available in our Art Shop again when we are able to acquire a new pasteurizer. Our bloomy rind cheese, in the style of Camembert, is called Etoile after the star of Bethlehem. It will be available for sale in the future in a pasteurized version.
I first came to the Abbey dairy in 2009 as a monastic intern who did not know the difference between Kraft Singles and Gruyère. In the Abbey dairy I learned a great deal not only about cheese but also about the life of the Benedictine Community in which these cheeses were made, a life vowed to obedience, stability and conversion of heart.
Oblate Brother David Aeschliman
Our dairy plays an important role in education. Our monastic interns regularly participate in the "high touch" work of the dairy such as hand milking and cheese making. We regard these skills as precious and feel it as an important mission to maintain them in the current world. Some interns have fallen in love with artisanal cheesemaking and the process of fermentation critical to the transformation of milk into cheese; and after their internship have pursued further education and/or certification in these areas. After his monastic internship David Aeschliman completed the Cheesemaker Certification Program at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese (VIAC) and a 6 month internship at Jasper Hill in Greensboro VT. Now in residence as an Oblate Brother of Regina Laudis he brings his care and gift for standardization, experimentation, and teaching to the Abbey dairy. He has brought our Etoile, which is one of the most difficult classes of cheeses to make, to its creamy, buttery perfection. Brother David has also implemented the Old English technique for cloth-bound cheddar, wrapping our young green cheddar-type cheeses in cotton cloth and coating them with lard. Since these cheeses are aged over 60 days they are available for sale in our Art Shop on a regular basis.
July 2014—LONG-AWAITED IMPROVEMENTS AND NEW EQUIPMENT AT THE ABBEY DAIRY:
OUR DAIRY HAS A NEW SHINY ROOF!
During the severe weather of early 2013 the roof of our dairy barn and facility suffered extensive damage. In the spring of 2014 replacement of the roof was made possible through funds from the 2013 PLANT (Production Loss Assistance Needed Today) Grant offered through the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. These agencies assist farmers with losses and we are extremely grateful to their representatives who evaluated our situation and facilitated our reception of the grant. Thanks to the good work of Joe Pisani and his team from Pisani Steel Fabrication in Waterbury, the roof was installed just in time for the barn to be filled with hay bales from the first cutting of hay this season!
Gallery of Roof Installation
WE HAVE A NEW PASTEURIZER!
The pasteurizer we purchased in 1987 stopped functioning in the spring of 2012 and could not be repaired. As a result we could not sell our fresh cheeses such as crème fraîche, herb cheese spread, cream cheese and our pâte molle cheese Etoile which require pasteurization in order to be legally sold. We were also unable to make ice cream. After months of searching for a pasteurizer that could fit into our tiny dairy room, Frank Kipe of Microdairy Designs in Maryland was recommended to us. We knew we had found our man when we read the philosophy of his company, committed to “small dairies with big dreams”. His equipment, though small in size, meets dairy regulatory requirements, receiving 3-A approval for use in any state. On his web site he states the two missions behind his business:
On June 29th, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, we had a reception in our dairy and the adjoining craft studios for our community, interns and special guests. It was an occasion for all to see the improvements in our facility and departments made possible by our benefactors. The new pasteurizer was named by Mother Abbess and blessed by Father Iain Highet, and of course everyone was able to taste the dairy products offered by the Abbey cheesemakers.
NAMING OF PASTEURIZER
We name the pasteurizer Francis in honor of Frank Kipe, who in his dedication to the small and the poor embodies the spirit of his patron St. Francis, and made this miracle possible in the Portiuncula or 'little portion' of our dairy.
BLESSING OF PASTEURIZER
Bless O Lord, we pray, this pasteurizer, that it will through its heat destroy harmful bacteria, while with its gentle action, maintain the integrity and structure of the protein and fat molecules in the milk of our cows. Protect all who use this tool and bless those who eat the cheese, ice cream, yogurt, kefir and other as-yet undiscovered fermented delights, made from our pasteurized milk and cream. Bless our benefactors whose generosity will allow us to develop, sell, and distribute our pasteurized products so that others may taste the goodness of the land that is Regina Laudis: transformed through the work of the hayers, cows, milkers, and cheesemakers. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Gallery of Pasteurizer Installation and Blessing
CHEESE AND MICROBES COLLOQUIUM AND NEWLY-PUBLISHED BOOK
On June 11th, 2014 at the invitation of the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) Mother Noella, a microbiologist specializing in cheese-ripening fungi, participated in a colloquium on Cheese and Microbes in Washington, D.C. The colloquium was part of the AAM series called FAQ's in which “frequently asked questions” about microbes and how they affect our lives are addressed. The Cheese and Microbes colloquium proceedings will be published in a “FAQ's” booklet written in language that is accessible to cheese-lovers and cheesemakers who may not be scientists, and will available free to the public at the American Society for Microbiology web site. For Mother Noella it was an occasion to re-connect with colleagues from Europe and the United States who share a like passion for the process of fermentation and the microorganisms that create the flavor and diversity of cheeses.
Mother Noella is also a contributing author to the American Society of Microbiology book Cheese and Microbes released on April 30th, 2014. Her chapter entitled: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Tales of Fungal-Ripened Cheese was written in collaboration with her doctoral adviser from the University of Connecticut, Professor David Benson. An excerpt from the introduction to their chapter follows:
The history of cheese manufacture is a 'natural history' in which animals, microorganisms, and the environment interact to yield human food. Part of the fascination with cheese, both scientifically and culturally, stems from its ability to assume amazingly diverse flavors as a result of seemingly small details in preparation. In this review, we trace the roots of cheesemaking and its development by a variety of human cultures over centuries. Traditional cheesemakers observed empirically that certain environments and processes produced the best cheeses, unwittingly selecting for microorganisms with the best biochemical properties for developing desirable aromas and textures. The focus of this review is on the role of fungi in cheese ripening...
For those who are interested, this chapter and others from the book are available for reading/downloading at the ASM Microbiology Spectrum web site. (Microbiology Spectrum Volume 1, Issue 1)
Fall 2013—NEW CHEESE PRESS AT THE ABBEY DAIRY
Through the generosity and expertise of Neville McNaughton, President of CheezSorce in St. Louis Missouri, the Abbey dairy has a new cheese press. When Neville visited our dairy in 2012 he saw that the old wine press we had been using for 32 years to press our cheese could no longer meet the needs of our growing dairy, especially during Connecticut summer humidity. On our behalf he presented our need to American artisanal cheesemakers who generously contributed to the fabrication of a custom-made press, designed by Neville to fit into our tiny dairy. Neville (accompanied by his Irish Setter Bella) drove the press from St. Louis to Bethlehem and instructed our cheesemakers on its operation. Our cheesemakers are thrilled to be able to press two types of cheese simultaneously. As the press was blessed by Mother Abbess, it was named Neville (derived from Old French Néville ("Néel's estate") or Neuville, ("new village" or "new town") because it allows our cheesemakers to bring their craft into the future.
Special thanks to:
Brenda and Neville McNaughton and Tim Woods of CheezSorce
Tiffany and Skeet Repsher of LaRaysville Cheese Factory
Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont Dairy
Vince Galluccio of Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company
Terry Beckman of Dairy Fab LLC
Michael Pollan and Judith Belzer
CLICK THE IMAGE ABOVE TO SEE THE CHEESE PRESS IN ACTION!
New Cheese Press
Postulant Gwyneth and Monastic Intern Theresa make Mozzarella
Brother David leads Monastic Intern Janice through the steps of cheddar-making
Our Dairy Cows
Work of the Dairy
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