A Taste of Heaven

May 10, 2010 9:42:24 AM PDT
There's much more cooking in monasteries and convents than you might imagine. Nuns and monks in the United States and Europe create luscious, sometimes decadent, food and beverages that they sell to visitors and ship all over the world. From mouth-watering cheese and beer to rich and complex wine and chocolates, history buff and foodie Madeline Scherb covers many of them in her new book A Taste of Heaven. Madeline shares recipes, explores the traditions and reveals the secrets for what she calls "the most heavenly food and drink on earth."

Part travel guide, part cookbook, A Taste of Heaven is a delightful survey of the fine food and drink made by Catholic religious orders in America, Belgium, France, and Germany. The book is divided into four sections: beer/wine/liqueurs; cheese; candy; and a catch-all section for things like jam and fruitcake.

"From positively scrumptious beer and cheese to some of the richest chocolate on earth, the treats presented in this book are heavenly indeed," says Madeline. The author, a member of St. Bernard's Parish in Middleton, Wisconsin, says she aimed to "capture the heart and spirit of the holy work that goes into making the products."

While compiling her book, Madeline visited more than a dozen abbeys in America and Europe. She met Benedictine, Trappist and Orthodox monks and nuns. She describes the monasteries and their fascinating histories. She provides helpful advice for travelers on getting there and getting the most out of their visit. A Taste of Heaven, heavengourmet.com, also contains more than thirty recipes from notable chefs that incorporate the products found at these monasteries. Chicago chefs including Charlie Trotter and Rick Bayless contributed recipes to the book.

Recipes include such delights as:

  • Flamiche (a Belgian version of quiche that uses Postel cheese from the Postel Abbey in Belgium) from chef and food columnist Sandy D'Amato
  • Brownies à la Mode with Trappistine Caramel Sauce (uses caramel from Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, Iowa)
  • Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet (made with Pinot Noir from St. Hildegard Abbey near Rudesheim, Germany) from Ciao Bella Gelateria in Grand Central Terminal, New York City
  • A Taste of Heaven also includes a helpful guide to buying and ordering the delectable ingredients if you are unable to travel to the monasteries themselves. Every purchase of a monastery product helps to support the monks and nuns, she points out. Some monastery products like Mystic Monk Coffee and the Flavours from Orval cookbook are available on Madeline's website, heavengourmet.com.

    In addition, monasteries are open for retreats and welcome men and women, the author points out, so the book includes a Monastery Etiquette Guide. Through her website, Heaven Gourmet, Madeline is giving away a free T-shirt to the first 20 people to join the Compassionate Consumer Guild, a volunteer group that helps abbeys with projects like painting a guest house.

    The paperback, published by Penguin Books, penguin.com is available on line and at local bookstores.

    PRODUCTS DISPLAYED ON ABC7

    Flavors from Orval cook book, Orval beer and glass; made at Orval monastery www.orval.be in Belgium, one of seven Trappist breweries. Trappist monks make some of the best beers in the world.

    Westmalle abbey makes two beers, the Triple and Double. The monks own a wonderful cafe across the street from the monastery www.trappistwestmalle.be where day trippers can kick back with a Westmalle beer and good food. Available at grocery stores, including Whole Foods or visit www.merchantduvin.com for store near you.

    Chartreuse liqueur comes in yellow and green versions. The green is made from more than 100 plants and herbs using a top-secret recipe. The color is all natural. Chartreuse is great in mixed drinks, especially served cold with Orange juice! Available where liquor is sold.

    Trappist cheese has a washed-rind and is semi-soft. Some of the most famous cheeses in the world were once made by monks, like Wenslydale, but no longer are. Fortunately, there are still monks and nuns making delicious cheeses in America and Europe.

    Brownies à la Mode with Trappistine Caramel Sauce (uses caramel from Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, Iowa); recipe found in A Taste of Heaven. To order caramel sauce, visit www.trapistine.com

    Compassionate Consumer Guild T-shirt; for information, visit heavengourmet.com


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