Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Blessed are the Cheese-makers

This past Sunday I spoke about the Celtic saints in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day. I included St. Brigid, the abbess of a convent,  and the prayer attributed to her which imagines heaven as a place of celebration with plenty of beer for all. This would have scandalized my 90-year-old mother whose Salvation Army roots kept her away from alcohol for a lifetime, and the Methodists certainly looked askance at booze of any kind.

Fermented beverages were and are a regular part of life for many cultures, without negative connotations. There are many monasteries renowned for their fine beers. We watched the last episode of the four-part series developed and hosted by Michael Pollan called Cooked. The Earth segment is almost entirely about the foods we enjoy thanks to fermentation, everything from sauerkraut to chocolate to salami to cheese. And yes, beer. Pollan points out that the processes for both bread and beer may have been discovered virtually simultaneously.

In this episode there is a visit to a Connecticut convent and a nun , Sister Noella Marcellino, who makes amazing looking cheese. She says that she prayed for a French woman to show up and teach them how to make traditional cheese from whole milk and that is what happened. The discussion did have an "eww" factor with the reminder that smelly cheeses contain bacteria not unlike those which make our feet and armpits odiferous. The French figure that this smell is the toe-jam of the gods.

Sister Noella has a doctorate in microbiology, so she know the science of cheese and studies the organisms under a microscope. She is also a theologian who reflects on the dying and rebirth involved in cheese-making and how that can teach us about our own mortality and our hope. It was an intriguing sermon in a series which is not overtly religious or spiritual. And it was an worthwhile message as we come closer to Holy Week and Easter.

Don't you just want to run home and watch this series? Have you ever been involved in fermenting food? Are you surprised by the beer-making, cheese-making nuns?


Judy said...

A lot of monasteries and abbies seem to make cheese and wine and other alcoholic beverages - I visited one in the eastern Townships several years ago which made and sold the most amazing tasting cheeses. I could not get enough of it - and was sorry when it was all consumed !

Laurie said...

We make our own bread and beer. Taste much better and is a lot cheaper.