Thursday, November 28, 2013


Mother Prioress making cheese
Many of you have heard of the Cheese Nun" and maybe even seen the PBS documentary about her. Mother Noella Marcellino, O.S.B is a Benedictine nun who earned a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Connecticut. Studying fungi in France on a Fulbright Scholarship, she concentrates on the positive effects of decay and putrefaction as well as the odors and flavors of cheese. She is at our Mother Abbey in Conn.

She was praised by Rémy Grappin, the late Director of Research at France's National Institute of Agricultural Research, who said that she had studied the biodiversity of raw-milk cheese fungi.

For her efforts, Mother Noella was inducted into the Grand Ordre Des Gourmandins and Gourmandines des Fromages d'Auvergne in 2002; was honored in 2003 by the French food industry with its first French Food Spirit Award for promoting an understanding of French cheeses and helping to preserve traditional ways of making them; and received the Grand Prix de la Science de l'Alimentation from the International Academy of Gastronomy in 2005.

Our own foundation here on Shaw  has had a cheese nun, who after a hiatus of 15 years, is back in the swing of things. Shaw Island’s Our Lady of the Rock (OLR) Monastery was the first certified raw milk dairy in the State of Washington.

Dairy barn & kitchen
In 1981, OLR received one of the first licenses in the state of Washington to produce cheese and raw milk, as a licensed Grade A Dairy. Mother Prioress says that their desire always was to produce cheese, with milk as a “side business” (which is not the case now; fluid milk is what we sell). At the time of licensing, we purchased cheese-making equipment (simple molds for the cheese curds, and testing equipment).

For awhile, we did make cheese. The cheese was a true farmstead cheese, with no added cultures, i.e., using only the native cultures found in and around the monastery. The cheese was sold at the Shaw store, the Orcas landing and at Frederick & Nelson department store in Seattle. It was a good time for Mother Prioress and the Monastery but this was in the days when most Americans only knew processed cheese so at the sight of a speck of mold, they fled.

Mother Dilecta feeds Jersey
But, life intervened, and the Community became very busy with other things – Mother Prioress, in particular. Fortunately, this year, the monastery is back in business working with one of our Oblates, Gigi, who is a professor at Western Washington University in Bellingham. Gigi has helped with milking cows, making cheese on her own, and giving Mother support and technical advice. She has also helped with the aging process, monitoring the molds, helping out with packaging and labels.

Last weekend, we had a cheese launch on Shaw. Only 10 couples were invited but we sold $265 of cheese, and received a donation of $600 for equipment..

This weekend, we’ll feature the cheeses at the Holiday Boutique on Shaw and at the Shaw Store.

At present to make this venture work  we need a large wine cooler which has controlled humidity and temperature.  Cost $1400.00

Mother Prioress teaches cheese making

We also need a new Jersey cow ($1,800)

Mother Prioress is our very own cheese nun- West coast Style!

Mother Prioress milking- Child watching

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