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Bethlehem, Connecticut

Abbey of Regina Laudis

These Benedictine nuns have been making artisanal cheeses since before it was cool. 

The Abbey of Regina Laudis, appropriately located in the town of Bethlehem, Connecticut, is home to Benedictine nuns with a taste for life’s finer cheeses. 

Mother Noella, who earned the nickname the “Cheese Nun” after appearing in a 2002 PBS documentary, spearheaded the abbey’s foray into the artisanal market. She started making cheese after the abbey bought its first cow in the 1970s.

The nuns began creating Bethlehem Cheese, the abbey’s now-signature raw milk, uncooked, fungal-ripened speciality. They learned their technique from a third-generation French cheesemaker.

Mother Noella was even able to use Bethlehem Cheese as the basis for her graduate research. Studying its microbiology allowed her to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. A Fulbright scholarship later brought her to France, where she ventured into the country’s cheese caves to study fungus. She used her research to determine how fungus affects the odor and taste of different cheeses as they mature.

When she first began creating cheese at the abbey, there was only one other cheese maker in Connecticut. Though the industry boomed after Americans developed a taste for artisanal cheeses, the Abbey of Regina Laudis is still one of the few dairies in the state that’s licensed to produce and sell raw milk products.

The nuns still make Bethlehem Cheese at the abbey, as well as other varieties like ricotta, mozzarella, and cheddar. They sometimes sell the cheese in their gift shop along with other tasty treats like bread, honey, jams, and jellies.

In addition to the artisanal cheeses, the abbey also has a 300-year-old Crèche, which is believed to have been a coronation gift to Victor Amadeus II, the King of Sardinia, in 1720. The detailed nativity figures sit within a climate-controlled exhibit in one of the abbey’s barns.