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You can think what you like about the Church. However, there is no denying that it has had a decisive influence on our culture, and this is particularly true of cheese. The medieval order of the Cistercians, named after the monastery in Cîteaux in Burgundy, is entirely focused on reading, praying and making a living and always founded branches where it was most remote and difficult, among others in Brandenburg in the 13th century. Even more extreme: Munkeby, near Levanger north-east of Trondheim, in Norway, the most northerly Cistercian monastery ever. Founded in the 12th century, burnt down in the 16th and long abandoned, it was re-founded in 2007 by four monks from Cîteaux.
Almost ten years ago I was in Munkeby because I had heard about the cheese that Brother Joël produces there once a week from the untreated, raw milk of a neighbouring farm. Unlike fish, the Norwegians are reluctant to export their culinary delicacies. They say there are too few of them, and that they first have to introduce their own people to good food. So a pilgrimage of the cheesy kind was on the agenda.
In the small self-service farm shop, an old storehouse next to the monastery, a cheese platter was on offer for visitors, but Joël actually received my friend Ebba and me personally. He seemed pleased to be able to talk about cheese-making, a task he had already been responsible for in Cîteaux. His Munkeby is based on the Abbaye de Cîteaux, but slightly smaller, a firm, red-smeared soft cheese with a fine sandy thin rind, more or less quarky-sour at the core depending on the degree of ripeness (four to five weeks in the monastery itself, on wooden boards), but always of mouth-filling opulence. Joël makes 180 such small wheels every week with the help of another brother (in 2013 it was half that amount), and yet the brothers themselves can rarely afford it – too rare, too expensive.
So I was all the more delighted to discover it on the breakfast buffet of my hotel in Trondheim the other day AND to buy a wheel for the next Heinzelcheesetalk (and yes, it has its price). The brothers are busy at the moment with the new building for their monastery, so seem optimistic about the future, and that also makes me hope that the Munkeby will be around for a long time, allowing us to taste this beautiful stretch of land, regardless of how you feel about religion. Ha det bra!