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The "Cheese Nun"


Published July 6, 2009 at 6:45 p.m.

Sent by Seven Days freelancer Sally Johnson

If science and religion are often at odds, Mother Noella Marcellino either hasn’t noticed or doesn’t care. A Benedictine nun turned doctor of microbiology, Mother Noella has married the two in a successful cheese-making enterprise and says she sees God in the remarkably complex world of the microorganisms that turn milk into cheese. She will be a guest speaker for the morning session of UVM's Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese workshop on Wednesday, extolling the virtues of raw-milk cheese.

The story of Mother Noella, who lives at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Ct., reads like a children’s story. A nun at the abbey bought a cow and the cow gave milk and the nuns had to figure out what to do with it. In answer to Mother Noella’s prayers, a young Frenchwoman turned up at the abbey to teach the nun her family’s cheese secrets, which resulted in Bethlehem cheese. Offered the chance to sign up for a course in agriculture, Mother Noella jumped at it, going on finally to take her master's and doctorate in microbiology.

Her specialty was the biodiversity of cheese fungi, which won her a Fulbright scholarship and a trip to France, culminating in a PBS documentary called, fittingly, The Cheese Nun. And if she doesn’t love that moniker, well, it will have to do. “If it gets people to … appreciate these fungi, then I do like the name Cheese Nun," she says. "Cheese has really enriched my spiritual life.”

Mother Noella is scheduled to speak on Wednesday, July 8, on the second floor of the Firehouse Center for the Visual Arts,  9:15-10:15 a.m. The morning session, which runs from 9 to noon, is free and open to the public.