Friday, June 17, 2011

Religion+Science=Great Cheese?! (June 17th, 2011)

Today we visited the Abbaye of Citeaux, which is actually a working monastery. There were about 10 brothers of this monastery, and they sustained themselves by making Citeaux cheese at their “factory”. The milk that went into making the cheese came from their own herd of Montbeliarde cattle (the brown and white cows) of this region. Ironically, they artificially inseminate their cows with prize bull semen based on the prized DNA sequence from this bull. I was flabbergasted with the amount of science that each of the monks knew and how heavily they incorporated science into their work. The philosophy that was central to monastic life is that hard work and worship. So in a way, science was part of making the work possible, and the combination of religion and science was working well since the French people love the Citeaux cheese. After eating the aged Citeaux cheese, I fully agree based on my taste buds.
After the milk is gathered from the cows, the cheese is made in a series of steps. We were lucky enough to be invited INSIDE the actual cheesemaking factory itself! They take a big risk in cheese fermentation by allowing any outside flora to enter the factory, so I really appreciate this privilege. Anyhow, back to the cheesemaking….The cows are milked in the morning, the milk is then heated to a higher and lower temperatures as two starter cultures of LAB (lactic acid bacteria) cultured exclusively in a BL3 facility (for maximum care) are added into the milk to outcompete any pathogenic bacteria. After the starter cultures, the rennet is added to the milk to coagulate the curd. This curd is then cut many times and pressed over so that the whey drains out. After the whey drains out, the curd is salted and pressed into molds. The molds are then stored and washed daily in separate, isolated room of the factory as they age. After production, the machines and the factory utensils are washed thoroughly. Each brother of the monastery helps out in each of the cheese-making steps and the whole production is made by a community.

The Montbeliarde Cows:


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