A bunch of city-based Benedictine monks dabbling in the business of cheese-making to sustain themselves for more than a decade, have top chefs in town lining up for their choice Italian cheeses
A bunch of city-based Benedictine monks dabbling in the business of cheese-making to sustain themselves for more than a decade, have top chefs in town lining up for their choice Italian cheeses. The monks have been supplying their wares to top hotel chains in the country for quite some time now. Oberoi and Taj group of hotels are some major hospitality players who regularly buy from the local Benedictines.
"We have been selling cheese for more than a decade already and many five star hotels buy cheese from us," Jinse Puthuppallimyalil, a monk from the Vallombrosian Benedictine Order (OSB) told IANS.
Vallombrosa majorly makes Italian cheese with varieties such as olive stuffed bocconcini, mozzarella, burrata, mascarpone, ricotta, cheddar, parmesan, pizza cheese and goat cheese.
According to Puthuppallimyalil, Benedictine monks have two main missions, prayer and working for their own sustenance. This motto is followed by all the Benedictines the world over.
Some monks run schools, some do manual work like growing vegetables, a few run a school in Kerala and others.
In Bengaluru's suburb Kengeri, the Benedictines have a big cattle farm. Each Benedictine community finds its own work to support itself financially.
"The main motto of Benedictines is prayer and work. Each Benedictine community has to find some work for its sustenance. So one of our pioneers studied in Italy to set up the Vallombrosa cheese brand," he said.
K.L. Michael, the pioneering monk established Vallambrosa in 2006 after spending eight years in Italy, where he picked up the Italian fromage or cheese making skills.
"Michael personally visited many cheese companies in Italy. He has friends in the European country," said Puthuppallimyalil, explaining how Michael picked up the art of making cheese.
The Italy-returned monk presented his cheese idea to his fellow monks, who accepted and supported his brainchild, achieving success after many trials.
Incidentally, the monks did not spend any money on publicity, Vallombrosa found fame just by word of mouth publicity from a few chefs.
Manjeet Singh, a chef with Herbs and Spices restaurant which used to function on Koramangala 80 feet road, a posh Bengaluru locality, promoted Vallombrosa cheese. Singh also happens to be the friend of Michael.
Soon word went around about Vallombrosa to many other chefs.
"Now when a chef moves from one hotel to another, he will call us. Like that, word about Vallombrosa spread everywhere. We have not paid even five rupees for advertising," said the monk.
Within India, Vallombrosa's cheeses has buyers in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and several other places.
Recently, the cheese brand even received an order from a Singapore buyer for a consignment.
As many as 10 monks produce 100 kg cheese in a day but these dynamics have changed because of Coronavirus.
"Before the lockdown, we used to make 100 kg cheese per day. Now that Covid has affected many hotels, we are making less cheese and have also changed our policy. Lockdown has really affected our operations," said the monk.
From being only a B2B seller, Vallombrosa is now supplying to customers in B2C model as well, without any minimum order quantity frills.
"We don't have any minimum quantity condition, how much ever a customer wants we will give them," said cheese maker.
A number of families living near Vallambrosa in KR Puram and other places in city are sending cheese orders for home delivery, especially from the start of Covid lockdown.
Encouragingly, the monks have started receiving many enquiries about their cheese, including phone calls and messages on whatsapp.
The cheese not only sustains the monks but is also supporting a programme which trains priests.
Buffalo milk is the chief ingredient of Vallombrosa cheese. As the monks do not have a buffalo farm, they are sourcing milk from two to three sellers.
"We are also planning to raise a goat farm near Hosur to meet our goat cheese ingredient demand, Vallombrosa's most expensive cheese," he said.
In India, the Benedictine order is headquartered in Kottayam, Kerala and internationally in Italy. The Kottayam seminary was founded in 1988.
By 2018, Benedictine Confederation had 7,500 monks, belonging to 19 different congregations with regional differences, particular missions and specific spiritual traditions.
As many 13,000 nuns and sisters also belong to the Benedictine order.