The Cheese Nun
Produced and written by Pat Thompson
PBS Home Video
Sister Noella is one of a group of cloistered nuns in Connecticut who are very self-sufficient. When I say self-sufficient, I mean they do the farming, bale the hay, and drive the tractors and trucks. That’s not all. There is a scene of a nun in full habit hoisting herself into a tree by rope to cut limbs and prune. She is using a handsaw too, not some sissy power tool. Another nun is a blacksmith. We see many shots of nuns doing things you don’t see every day. In many ways they have established a small, productive community that largely provides for itself, something I consider ideal.
Sister Noella is their expert maker of cheese. The camera follows her back to school as she expands her expertise in more scientific directions. There are endless cheese-related fungi and microbes to scrutinize under the microscope at the nearby university. Her education takes her to France where one finds the ultimate experts in cheese.
We learn some interesting things about the small cheese-making industry in France. As in America, many are being forced out of business by regulation. Sister Noella had to make some effort to gain their trust, but I suspect they figured out pretty fast that she didn’t look like a typical inspector or regulator. One cheesemaker ages his cheese in a cave carved out of volcanic rock—a very interesting looking cave. If your only experience with cheese is the product that comes from standard American industry it might surprise you to know that cheese made the traditional way comes out different every time.
After much learning and making a lot of friends, the cheese nun returns home and attends a cheese convention and competition in Louisville, Kentucky. Some of the scenes look like they could have been at a Wise Traditions conference. In the foreground of one shot is a sign announcing a talk with the title “Cheese as Aphrodisiac.” I’m pretty sure that was not a talk given by Sister Noella. There is also a woman rocking a nice Holstein-pattern dress. It would be great to see those at the next Wise Traditions conference also. Thumbs UP.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2013.