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Holier than Swiss? Indian Monks Find Purpose in Cheese

sliced mozzarella

Many of us could describe ourselves as religiously devoted to cheese, but a group of monks in India is taking this adoration to a different level.

NPR journalist Aarthi Gunnupuri recently visited this order of Vallombrosian monks in Bangalore to learn more about its Italian cheesemaking operation. This pursuit, while fairly common among European monasteries, wasn’t an obvious choice for these monks; though the native paneer is popular on the subcontinent, many Indians do not eat Western-style cheese on a regular basis. However, after listening to complaints about the lack of high-quality mozzarella in India from an Italian businessman (no doubt inspired more by his stomach than his business savvy), the monks realized fresh Italian cheese might be the perfect niche for them to fill after all. To one of the first Vallombrosian monks there, Father Michael, this also seemed to be a wonderful opportunity to generate income for the order.

In the NPR article, Father Michael recalls the trial and error involved when he started this journey 13 years ago. The monks had to change locations (they were originally based in the hotter city of Kottayam before realizing it was impossible to make fresh cheeses in such oppressive temperatures), and ensuring a high, consistent quality of milk from suppliers proved to be so difficult that at one point, the order even tried overseeing its own buffaloes.

“We pay much more than the market price to ensure that our milk is free of adulterants,” Father Michael told Gunnupuri. “Even then, there have been times when the cheese simply does not set and we have to discard the product.”

The Vallombrosian monks now produce more than 200 pounds of cheese a day. They sell their products—which include mozzarella, burrata, and bocconcini—mainly to high-end restaurants and hotels in India’s largest cities, as well as some Bangalore shops, appeasing curd-craving expats and Indians who want to experiment with Western cooking.

Read Aarthi Gunnupuri’s full report on Father Michael and the Vallombrosian monks here.

Anne Jastrzebski

Anne is a former Editorial Web Intern at culture. A Pennsylvania native who loved farm animals way before she loved cheese, she can often be found peeking up from her International Relations textbook to scroll through pictures of goats.

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