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I segreti dei monasteri: Liqueurs, Chocolate and Jams

Ora et labora” – Latin for “pray and work”, is the monastic practice for which the Catholic Order of Saint Benedict became famous for. It is a simple phrase that expresses a philosophy and a lifestyle shared by many monastic orders and it dates back to the Middle Ages.

Inside the holy walls of monasteries nuns and monks are not only praying, they are also dedicating time to different artistries. They have been known for mastering the art of transcribing old manuscripts, for their knowledge of medicinal plants and for applying their talent to making liqueurs, chocolate and jams. Over the years, some have become quite famous - in Italy and across Europe - for the delicious goods they so lovingly produce.  

Founded in 1084 by a German monk in the French Chartreuse Mountains, the Carthusian monks have always had expertise in growing and using curative plants. As a result, they became known worldwide for the herbal liquor called Chartreuse. This bright green cordial has found its Italian expression in the Florence Charterhouse (Certosa di Firenze). This beautiful walled complex is where local monks produce its twin liqueur called Gran Liquore della Certosa, using a secret mix of herbs and flowers.   

The order of Camaldolese was established by the Italian monk Saint Romuald in the 10th century, who founded his monastery in the hills around Arezzo, Tuscany. Monks lived in individual cells, but also observed the common life, worshiping daily in the church and breaking bread in the dining hall. The Monastery of Camaldoli became famous for its apothecary, Antica Farmacia dei Monaci Camaldolesi, which also specializes in making liqueurs, herbal teas, honey and cosmetics such as face and hand creams, all prepared following their ancient recipes.

The Trappist order takes its name from the French abbey of Le Trappe, where in 1664 the Abbot Armand-Jean de Rancé reformed the Cistercian order. This order of nuns and monks made its way to Italy and nowadays they are known for their chocolate, Cioccolata dei Trappisti, the first artisanal production of chocolate ever made in Rome in 1880. Their products include chocolate spreads, soft nougats and chocolate bars. The Trappist nuns of Vitorchiano enjoy a great reputation, surely favored by their location in the hills of Alto Lazio (north of Rome) where the climate is ideal for growing berries, apricots, figs, chestnuts, quinces and oranges which are made into delicious jams and preserves sold under the name Confettura delle Trappiste.

Many monastic orders have mastered similar skills and their involvement in economically profitable activities does not conflict with their spiritual missions as work is an integral part of their life, much like prayer. Many orders welcome visitors to stay and share their life with them. While their recipes are still closely guarded secrets, their products are available to everyone - at monastery shops and online. 

YouTube: Liquori della Certosa di Firenze (IT)

Article written by Gaia Mencagli in collaboration with the ICC Editorial Team

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