June 30 Mother Noella - World Expert in Cheese Making
Today we travel to Connecticut in the USA where Martha A. Marcellino was born in 1951. She is now known as Mother Noella Marcellino, a Benedictine nun who has become famous around the world because of her expertise in cheese making. The cheeses crafted by the Benedictine nuns at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut are widely sought after.
When Noella left home, in 1969, her name was Martha Marcellino. She was the youngest daughter in a family of gifted, headstrong Italians and after four years of Catholic high school she was hungry for “the most radical place” she could find. She opted for Sarah Lawrence College, a private liberal arts college in New York which at the time gave neither exams nor grades. She dropped out after a year looking for something a little more structured and eventually entered the cloistered community of Benedictine nuns of Abbey of Regina Laudis. A motto for the Benedictines is Ora et Labora, " To Pray and Work". St Benedict of Nursia is often considered to be the founder of Western Monasticism, with the communities timetable of seven periods of prayer following the daily Divine Office punctuated by periods of manual labour as they sustain themselves as a community. The nuns work as beekeepers, cowherds, and blacksmiths; they make their own pottery, grow and blend their own herbal teas and raise their own pigs. Sister Noella was looking after the abbeys cows when she began her first attempts at cheesemaking, which were not very successful. She prayed for an old French woman to come and teach her but a young French woman came and started to pass on the skills that she had learned handed down from her family.
After the Second Vatican Council, religious orders were encouraged to revisit their sources for the sake of renewal. Some of the rules of cloistered life where re-examined and the Archbishop of Hartford, John Whealon, gave permission for members of the abbey to leave the cloister for purposes of higher education and training. Noella and three other nuns applied and were accepted into courses for Agricultural Science at the University of Connecticut. This was the beginning of an academic journey that would see her apply for a Fulbright scholarship and go to France, a country with hundreds of years of experience of cheese making, and a well-developed cheese culture, with many regional cheeses and an immense diversity within each variety of cheese, leading some to claim closer to anywhere between 1,000 to 1,600 distinct types of French cheese. The Fulbright Program, is a Cultural Exchange Programs with the goal to improve intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills. Founded by the Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 it is considered to be one of the most widely recognized and prestigious scholarships in the world providing approximately 8,000 grants annually and Fulbright alumni have been awarded 60 Nobel Prizes and 88 Pulitzer Prizes.
Sister Noella went to study the history and ecology of French cheese caves, and became an expert on how the different fungi in the caves changed the consistency of Cheese. The ripening period lasts from a few days to several years and as a cheese ages, microbes and enzymes transform texture and intensify flavor. Some cheeses have additional bacteria or moulds intentionally introduced before or during aging. In traditional cheesemaking, these microbes might be already present in the aging room or cave; they are simply allowed to settle and grow on the stored cheeses .She focused on a single mould: Geotrichum candidum, the wrinkly white mould that encases some of the greatest French cheeses. She wondered, how did the mould vary from one cave to another? As part of her study, she crisscrossed the French countryside in a second-hand Fiat. Her religious habit was enough to win trust with the wary local cheesemakers, who would show her the underground chamber or natural cave where their cheeses were ripened. She left France with 180 samples of the mould and completed a Ph.D. in microbiology. Concentrating on the positive effects of decay and putrefaction as well as the odours and flavours of cheese
Mother Noella makes her famous cheese in a sawn off whiskey barrel built from a few oak boards bound by a crude iron hoop, but her favourite cheese in the world is a Mont d’Or. Made in the high valleys of the Massif du Mont d’Or, on the border between France and Switzerland, this raw-milk cheese is so magnificently molten when ripe that it must be held together by strips of local spruce In 1985, she took her final vows to remain at Regina Laudis for the rest of her life, earning the title of Mother