“When they live by the labor of their hands, then they are really monks.” – St. Benedict
For the past 60 years, monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani have made their pale, piquant cheese a favorite with visitors to their quaint monastery and for mail-order customers worldwide.
The semi-soft Port du Salut style cheeses are made year-round at Gethsemani Farms, says Bro. Raphael, who has lived at the abbey for the past 50 years. Gethsemani Farms is located in Trappist, between Culvertown and Loretto, near Bardstown in Nelson County.
Visitors stop by to purchase cheese, chocolate bourbon fudge, or fruitcake from Gethsemani, and tour its front grounds and church, or schedule personal retreats to gain a clearer life focus during the prayerfully structured days and silent nights within the abbey.
Nearly 70 monks live at the abbey, which was founded in 1848, and they welcome about 10,000 retreatants and general visitors annually. Though there are no set hours, most visitors arrive and depart between 9 a.m. and late afternoon, Bro. Raphael notes.
Gethsemani’s reception center includes a store that offers recorded music, religious publications and videos, honey, and hand-carved nativity sets. But since the cheeses are made under strictly controlled conditions, no tours of the cheese-making process are available.
The cheeses—in mild, aged, smoky, and basil pesto varieties—are pungent and unprocessed, meaning they contain living bacteria. Bro. Raphael says the cheese is a dietary staple for the monks, who are vegetarians.
“We still use the same recipes and all that they used in the Old World in France,” he says. It’s “cheese with character,” says Bro. Raphael.
In Austin in Barren County, Kenny Mattingly also uses a European influence to make Kenny’s Country Cheese.
Originally a dairy farmer, Mattingly visited farms in Holland and Germany to discuss trade issues, and six years ago decided to try his hand at cheese-making in the tradition of his European counterparts.
Kenny’s cheeses are made from natural, unpasteurized milk, and come in seven basic types, some with added flavorings, resulting in sun-dried tomato basil cheddar or paprika and garlic-flavored jack cheese.
No matter the variety, Mattingly’s own dairy herd provides the basics—raw milk.
“On the day we make cheese, it comes right out of the cow through two filters into the cheese vat,” he says.
The cheeses are primarily available in the Louisville and Lexington areas in specialty and health food shops, wineries, restaurants, and on Mattingly’s farm, which includes a retail shop (open Monday–Saturday, 9 a.m.–3 p.m.). Free tours are available, with reservations required for groups.
Mattingly says customers appreciate the quality in his natural cheeses. “People can know the source of the cheese, that it comes from a family farm.”
Gethsemani Farms’ famous cheeses, fudge, and fruitcake can be ordered by calling (800) 549-0912 or on the Web at www.monks.org. Free U.S. shipping. They have extended hours during the holiday season, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–7:30 p.m., and on Saturday, 9 a.m.– 5 p.m.
Better yet, visit in person at 3642 Monks Road, Trappist. Off the Bluegrass Parkway, take Exit 21 and go south on U.S. 31E. Go about six miles, turn left on KY 247. Proceed about three miles and turn left at the caution light onto a private drive into the abbey. No tours are allowed during the cheese-making process, but you can stroll the peaceful front grounds, visit the church, and purchase products in the reception center. Personal retreats are also offered by reservation only at (502) 549-4133.
Reach customer service at (800) 549-1619, or if you have questions, you can e-mail them at email@example.com.
Kenny’s Country Cheese, 2033 Thomerson Park Rd., Austin, offers its cheeses by phone, (888) 571-4029, online at www.kennyscheese.com, or at its on-site retail shop, open 9 a.m.–3 p.m., Monday–Saturday. Free tours are available for groups by reservation, and other visitors (cheese is made every other day) can call in advance for the best day and time, and directions.
Kentucky Beer Cheese Salsa Dip
Recipe courtesy Sue Castano, Kentucky Beer Cheese, Nicholasville, (859) 887-1645.
1 lb. breakfast sausage
1 jar salsa
8 oz. Kentucky Beer Cheese
Brown and drain sausage; crumble. Combine with salsa and Kentucky Beer Cheese; serve warm with large corn chips. Serves 6-8.
Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
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Any free samples of Kentucky bourbon?
Do you have any water for my python?
Could you find my cat?
Where can we pick up a marriage license?
These are some of the more unusual requests travelers have made when stopping at one of Kentucky’s eight welcome centers. Staffed with trained travel hosts skilled in both hospitality and diplomacy, the welcome centers are a refuge for tired, lost, thirsty, pet-loving, bathroom-bound, and/or betrothed travelers—not just from Kentucky, but from all 50 states, as well as many foreign countries.
“We can assist tourists with hotel information, map routing, travel plans, pricing, finding auto repair centers—almost any need they have,” says Allen Thompson, supervisor of the Shelby County Welcome Center.
Owned by the Department of Transportation, Kentucky’s welcome centers are located as close to the entry points to the state as possible. Well-lit, safe, and clean, the centers offer fully stocked brochure racks, including maps, as well as well-manicured grounds, plentiful picnic tables, and grills.
“Each center has a supervisor and between two to four travel hosts,” says Sharon Finley, branch manager of welcome centers. The centers are staffed during daylight hours to best serve the needs of the traveling families to which they are geared. “Our hosts know the state extremely well. They are there to help.”
The centers are also a showcase for Kentucky’s culture and craft traditions through exhibits of artwork, cookbooks, music, and handmade items. The displays add a lot of local color and flair to the buildings, which are one of three distinct styles: modern glass-enclosed; colonial columned, reminiscent of the “Old South”; and historic, like Whitehaven Welcome Center in Paducah, the only welcome center in the nation that is also a designated historic site.
In early 2005, another center will open on I-65 in Kentucky’s cave region. Although it will be unstaffed initially—and more along the lines of a safety/rest area—the colonial-style building will have travel information, restrooms, and vending machines.
Currently, the older centers are in the process of being refurbished. All of them boast large lobbies, well-landscaped grounds, dramatic backdrops like mountains or a racetrack, and, like the Florence Welcome Center, are an attraction in their own right.
Says supervisor Jeff Thoke: “We have a 4-foot by 8-foot replica of a working coal mine that is located in eastern Kentucky. We have displays from a bourbon distillery, the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Kentucky Railway Museum, and the Patton Museum, plus arts and crafts from Berea and antiques and artifacts from the Kentucky Coal Mine Museum in Benham.”
How did each center answer the unusual requests put to them?
Sorry, no samples of Kentucky bourbon—free or otherwise—at the Florence Welcome Center or any of the others.
The python was given water—immediately —at the Whitehaven Welcome Center.
At the Shelby County Welcome Center, the cat was found, fed, and cared for until the West Virginia family that lost it returned, several weeks later, to pick it up.
And a travel host at the Grayson Welcome Center not only directed an altar-bound couple to the courthouse to pick up a marriage license, but arranged for a local pastor to perform the nuptials and then went with them to the church—as the bride’s matron of honor.
Now that’s a welcome visitors will find only in Kentucky.
Bullitt County Welcome Center
I-65 Southbound at Mile Marker 114, Shepherdsville
Top three attractions: Mammoth Cave/cave area, Bardstown/bourbon sites, and Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace
Best-kept secret: Bernheim Forest
Christian County Welcome Center
I-24 Westbound at Mile Marker 92, Hopkinsville
Top three attractions: Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park and Lake Barkley State Resort Park, and Patti’s Restaurant at Grand Rivers
Best-kept secret: The Homeplace at Land Between the Lakes
Florence Welcome Center
I-75/I-71 Southbound, Richwood
Top three attractions: Newport Aquarium, Kentucky Speedway, Kentucky Horse Park
Best-kept secret: Big Bone Lick State Park
Franklin Welcome Center
I-65 Northbound, Franklin
Top three attractions: Corvette Plant, National Corvette Museum, and Mammoth Cave National Park
Best-kept secret: Lost River Cave in Bowling Green
Grayson Welcome Center
I-64 Westbound, Grayson
Top three attractions: Kentucky Horse Park, Mammoth Cave, and Red River Gorge/ Natural Bridge area
Best-kept secret: Carter Caves and Greenbo Lake State Resort Parks
Shelby County Welcome Center
I-64 Eastbound, Shelbyville
Top three attractions: Kentucky Horse Park, Cumberland Falls, and Natural Bridge
Best-kept secret: Buffalo Crossing Restaurant and Family Fun Ranch in Bagdad
Whitehaven Welcome Center
I-24 Eastbound Exit 7, Paducah
Top three attractions: Land Between the Lakes, Museum of the American Quilter’s Society, and state resort parks: Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park; Lake Barkley State Resort Park; and Kenlake State Resort Park
Best-kept secret: River Heritage Museum
Williamsburg Welcome Center
I-75 Northbound, Williamsburg
Top three attractions: Cumberland Falls State Park, Mammoth Cave, and Kentucky Horse Park
Best-kept secret: The first Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant in Corbin
Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.