Monks, Friars, and Cheese

Article first published as Monks, Friars, and Cheese on Blogcritics.

My interest in the contributions of monks to the world of food started as a pure coincidence. I was reading about origins of cappuccino: some sources claim the name comes from the color of monks’ outfits while others attribute the drink’s name to a monk. You can read more in a linked article. Then I read further about the Trappist order of monks and found some interesting correlations to cheese, herbs, and beer. Since I have covered the latter two in my previous blogs I feel that cheese story will nicely round-up this week’s series of blogs about historical influence of Trappist monks on our daily lives.

How did monks come to be involved in food crafts?

As you have probably heard or read at some point in your life, the church was entitled to revenue from taxes. Usually it amounted to 10% of gross income and it was most often paid in goods produced as peasants rarely had enough money to pay in cash. The following is speculation, but the common sense would dictate that collected milk, grain, and other products would be put to some use and not just stored for harsh times. Monks have been known for brewing beer, making cheese and bread to feed the community in order to be self-sufficient and to make extra money to keep their property in mint condition. Nowadays some monasteries are involved in similar activities to fund their works and for charity.

Following the footsteps of trappist cheese

The Trappist order of monks originates from monastery of La Trappe, France. The birthplace of trappist cheese is also French abbey, namely Notre Dame de Port du Salut. If you read my blog about beer you know that there are only seven breweries in the world that are making authentic trappist beer. Among these magnificent seven there are only three abbeys producing authentic trappist cheese: Chimay, Orval, and Westmalle.

Trappist cheese is not only produced behind monastery walls. The above mentioned three are the crème-de-la-crème of trappist cheeses. The trappist-style (some know them as monastery-style) cheeses are produced all over the world. In the US, it is sold as Gethsemane cheese, in Belgium for example it is known as Pere Joseph, French Canadians know it as Oka, Norwegians start salivating when Riddler is mentioned, French know it as Port-Salut or Saint-Paulin.

Basic facts about trappist Cheese

Trappist cheese is made from cow’s milk. It is characterized by pale yellow colour and a mild, creamy flavour, reminiscing butter and sometimes hazelnuts. Usually it is packaged in red plastic or paraffin wax.

Pairing cheese with wine or beer

I am sure you have a favourite beer or wine. The one you tasted on that trip to brewery or wine cellar. You might even have a favourite cheese that you offer on special occasions. What about a favourite combination of cheese and wine or beer? Here are a few tips that might start watering your mouth:

  1. Bite white cheddar cheese and have a sip of Pilsner Urquell or any Pilsner style of beer.
  2. Have some six months aged gruyere together with dark, heavy bock beer.
  3. Try the gooey brie or camembert with Chardonnay barrique.
  4. In order not to stray too far away from monks, you have to pair Blue Chimay Trappist Ale with Chimay trappist cheese.
  5. Mix some goat cheese with Belgian Lambic beers.
  6. Forget about parmesan cheese on spaghetti. Combine it with some pale ale.

Don’t stop here, experiment with all possible and impossible combinations. You might discover a perfect combination. Share your (successful)  ideas in the comments below.

About Sebastjan Brezovec

I see blogging as a welcome distraction from daily routine. It gives me freedom to express myself as well as motivation for some research before publishing the content.
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1 Response to Monks, Friars, and Cheese

  1. Dear Sebastjan,
    There is little known about the work of the Trappist monks other than their cheese and beer. However, they really invented our agriculture, not the farmers. Honey, strong liquids, meat, name it, and they have invented it. But you have to look after the ancestors of the trappists, the Cistercians, who did this all. Problem is that they never ever wrote something down of their experiences, they only had a sign language, it was forbidden to speak. So I am looking for someone who can tell me more about the culinary, genetic and agricultural achievements of the Cistercians, the most forgotten group of inventors ever. See for instance the Chantecler chicken in Canada, why did this brother create this excellent meat breed? These monks already brought in the 15th century living river lobsters from France to Ireland. They brought the prune (by putting pits in their pockets) from Italy to Northern Europe by walking through the Alps.
    Who can help me ?

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