Friday, June 17, 2011

The Abbey of Citeaux

The fourth day of our excursion in Burgundy was an intense seven hour day of microbiology in our little lecture room at the hostel. So, seeing as how most people who may be reading this aren't microbiologists, I'll spare you that whole bit and go straight to the next day, which was our trip to the monastery of Citeaux. The monastery of Citeaux is an ancient monastery that used to be quite respected in its heyday, even receiving royal visitors. Now it is a high tech cheese producing facility that is still operated by the monks of Citeaux who take an oath of chastity, poverty, and humility. As we toured the cheese making facility we met some of the monks, but they didn't attempt to talk to us at all, which made us wonder if they weren't allowed to, or if they just didn't speak English.

After seeing the inner workings of the cheese factory, we went outside and got to the real beginning of the cheese, the milk. We walked into a large barn that housed in the area of a hundred cows that were feeding when we arrived. The cows were all the same type of cow, the Montbelier, which over time has proven to the brothers of Citeaux to make the best milk for making their cheese. We met the herdsman in charge of the monastery's herd and learned all about the life cycle of one of these Montbelier cows. While they were at the monastery they each produced around 30 kilos of milk per day for cheese production, and those who didn't were sold into surrounding herds. Those who got to be too old were sold for meat, which seems to be the fate of every cow in the area at the end of their lives. I thought this was very interesting, but at least they don't waste anything, right?

Professor Max

Brother Rafael on the left translating, and the herdsman in the center explaining the role of their herd in cheesemaking.

When we left the herd we explored the more scenic parts of the monastery and had a picnic on the grounds, which was even better than the last picnic we had two days before (which previously was the best picnic I've ever attended). After lunch and a nap under some of the trees at the abbey we took a guided tour of the older buildings like the library and dormitory which had been reconstructed. The life of a monk was quite dull, and still is in this modern age. They wake up at 3am, study old texts, pray, make cheese, have lunch, pray, work some more, pray, and then it's bedtime by 8 o'clock. I know that there's no way I could do that day in and day out, but some of the brothers didn't join the monastery until they were about 40 years old! I find that incredible because they had to have experienced modern life, and willingly giving yourself to something like a life of chastity, poverty, and humility after that is unheard of.

Again we found ourselves driving through the countryside on the way to another cheese tasting, life is just so difficult these days... haha. The next fromagerie, or cheese factory was much more modern and had been designed with tourists in mind. The whole cheese production area could be viewed from the large glass windows that give you a great view of the cheesemaking in action. Also, this fromagerie had a video explaining the various parts of the cheese making process in French, English, and German. I find it interesting that here in France agritourism is a huge part of their business, just as it is in the US. Today was the most hands-on day with cheese making that we've had so far and it was very interesting to see the cheese making process come to life in front of me.

Our cheese tasting

The way home was filled with chateaux and beautiful terroirs that we were almost too tired to appreciate! Imagine that! Hahah, but there's no time for sleep here in Cluny, were about to go hit the town in what is sure to be another exciting night. À bientot mes amis!

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