NUNDAY with Gouda Nuns

Blog Published: August 13, 2012
By Karol Bartlett

Monday is NUNDAY! Today we’ve got Gouda Nuns by guest blogger Karol Bartlett. Nunday is an opportunity to explore and imagine and experience the many ways Catholic sisters and nuns pray, live, and minister.

When I was a child in Iowa, my dad ran the local Creamery and made wonderful dairy products from the cream that came from the cows on local farms. Growing up with this wonderful abundance has made me really appreciate dairy products, especially ice cream and cheese, made by local farmers from their herds.

So when I ran across a news item from The Washington Post (July 3, 2012) called “Virginia’s Cheesemaking Nuns Keep Their Gouda in the Red (Wax)” by Martha Miller, you can bet I hopped right on it!

Sister Barbara Smickel

Image** Sister Barbara Smickel, head cheese maker at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Crozet, Virginia / photo by Norm Shafer for The Washington Post

In 1987 six Cistercian sisters were sent from Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey in Massachusetts (makers of Trappist Caramels) to Crozet, Virginia where they opened Our Lady of the Angels Monastery. From the outset, the Sisters had a plan for supporting themselves by making cheese. The previous owner had set up the property to make Gouda cheese, so it was an ideal situation.

In 1991, they produced 10,500 pounds of cheese and rolled out the first wheels of Monastery Country Gouda. Since then, their production has almost doubled to 19,000 pounds! The Washington Post stated that “from now until the end of August, the sisters will produce and stockpile an additional 650 pounds per week in preparation for the Christmas rush.” The same article quotes Sister Barbara Smickel, OSCO, saying “We produce only what we need to support ourselves so that we can remain focused on our life of worship.”

There are now 12 sisters at Our Lady of the Angels, and they will continue to make cheese as long as they are able. Sister Barbara “is focused on training the next generation of Gouda cooks.” This training includes being able to “feel” the cheese-making process of breaking up large curds, a process that Sister Barbara says is “very prayerful,” and “like a communion with the Lord and what is becoming cheese under my fingers.”

When was the last time you learned something on the job that made you prayerful? Have you ever taught another person a skill that helped them become self-sufficient? When was the last time you ate something and could taste the prayers that went into making it?

To see all the NUNDAY stories of Catholic sisters and nuns we’ve posted, visit NUNDAY at

Archived Comments

Kerri Leigh Power August 13, 2012 at 9:56 am

Love the idea of making cheese as a spiritual practice! (Can eating cheese be the same?) The only experience I can relate to this is being in the presence of a spiritual director who really made me feel like this activity was a spiritual practice for him, and that he was honoured to be sharing the experience with me. It made me appreciate our time together more, and motivated me to try to recognize the sacredness of the experience.

Sister Julie August 13, 2012 at 4:57 pm

LOL! Eating cheese is DEFINITELY a spiritual practice. My brother got me into cheese and I’ve got my handy dandy cheese board and knives. Paired with hummus, bread, crackers, wine, and good company, it’s a fabulous spiritual experience!

kbart August 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Making cheese and eating cheese are both central to these sisters! I love the idea of this sister actually mixing the milk that comes from 4 different dairy cow varieties to come up with just the right mix for their Gouda. Can you imagine being taught to make cheese by this Sister? Wow!

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