In Bethelehem, CT, set in beautiful surroundings, you’ll find the Benedictine convent Abbey of Regina Laudis. 450 acres of farmland and forests tucked away in Litchfield county. Amazing. It was of course cheese that brought me to Sister Noella and the Abbey, or us as I took my whole family along. A cheese and a dairy that had completely missed my radar. Not that I know of every farmstead cheese maker in the world, far from it, and especially not in Connecticut, hardly regarded as one of the cheese making states in the US. Nothing like Wisconsin and Vermont. In addition, they only make about six wheels of cheese per week, of raw milk from four cows. Hand milked of course. Barely for sale either; at least you have to go there to buy it. Not on a Wednesday, though. There is, however, one particular and important reason Sister Noella appeared on my screen. Well, they told me at Cato Corner Farm I should visit her, but more importantly a Facebook post about Sister Noella and her doctoral work on microorganisms, Geotrichum Candidum in particular. If I’d been part of the inner circle of world cheese making, I would have long since known about her. She’s a capacity in her field. Never too late, though, to become acquainted with interesting people. We had an awesome hour together in the cellar (and the Church on the hill). We arrived very unannounced, so it was just about we got to meet with her. Glad she managed to squeeze us in.
Sister Noella – A very pleasant Nun
She emerged in the courtyard of the dairy in a Subaru, stepped out with a big smile and in an almost Stanley/Livingstone style asked Peter, I presume? Well, she did not say I presume. But it was me, oh yes. A more than happy moment. From there down into the ripening cellar with the whole family. I do not know what I had imagined, but definitely not this. A bathroom sized ripening room with three cupboards filled with cheese. If there were 100 wheels there, that’s a maximum.
I suppose that’s how it is when you have four cows supplying the milk, and they probably need milk at the Abbey for other purposes as well.
The cows are of the breed Dutch Belted, not very common as far as I know, but known for their good quality milk. This breed hails from the Swiss and Austrian areas of Appenzeller and Tirol, respectively, but brought to the Netherlands around 1750. The Scottish Galloway cattle is a crossbreed from Dutch Belted. Sister Noella and Regina Laudis’ herd is a heritage breed by the way. A digression, but important enough as this is a rare breed.
As I mentioned, the cellar at the Abbey of Regina Laudis is small, but that puts no limit on making excellent cheese. A St. Nectaire style. Natural rind, a mix of Mucor and Geotrichum Candidum. Originally was her field of study nutrition, but found out that life on a cheese was far more fascinating. I can well understand that. So why St. Nectaire? Well, she found out that microbial life in the cellar of Regina Laudis was the same you find in Auvergne, France, where they make the St. Nectaire. If rinds are technically edible, I always taste them because I find the cheese tastes different right underneath the rind compared to the middle. Siste Noella was not too fascinated by that and insisted that might give a bitter taste to the cheese. Right she is of course, especially when the rind is covered with a fair amount of Geotrichum Candidum. However, I still insist: taste the rind (as long as it is not so hard it will break your teeth).
St. Nectaire style, natural rind. First impression gave a sense of yeast. Harmonizes with the Mucor and the Geotrichum Candidum. As I tasted the cheese later in other surroundings that disappeared and I am left with a harmonious cheese with a good body and taste of milk. The cheese I was lucky enough to bring with me from there had a few small faults, something Sister Noella was careful in pinpointing. As far as I am able to detect, that has no impact on the taste of the cheese. An excellent cheese you should taste if you ever have the opportunity.
Sister Noella recommended a Riesling. Since this is an American cheese I would suggest an American Riesling, Kung Fu Girl from Washington State. Dry with a very fruity touch at the end, typical for the Pacific Rim. I do not know if growing Riesling is very common in Connecticut; I otherwise find the whites they make there sort of half sweet, which is an in-between style I do not quite fancy.