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All About Cheese


Published July 8, 2009 at 2:50 p.m.

Here's a follow-up on the "Cheese Nun":

Mother Noella Marcellino followed in the footsteps of Samuel de Champlain on Wednesday morning, paying homage to the explorer and, more importantly, to his homeland where she spent three years learning the craft of cheesemaking. Having landed a Fulbright Scholarship, the Benedictine nun wandered the valleys and cheese caves of rural France, paying close attention to the local microorganisms that make regional cheeses unique. Wednesday morning, she shared that journey with her audience of cheesemakers and cheese eaters at a seminar hosted by UVM's Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese. It was called, appropriately, the Taste of Champlain.

Mother Noella's story is one of twists and turns; some might call it serependity, while to others it smacks of divine intervention. A "suburban girl from Massachusetts," she visited the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT, and fell in love with the community, entering the convent in 1973. Four years later, the agriculturally minded abbess encouraged her to take up cheesemaking, using the milk from the abbey's handful of Dutch-belted cows.

Long story short, she got a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Connecticut, a degree that explains her expertise in the organisms that create the idiosyncratic flavors and textures of various raw-milk cheeses — the French call it "terroir," which has to do with the unique ecosystems that sustain the animals that are milked to make cheese. And so it goes.