There is food we eat in life for nourishment, and there’s food we enjoy and sometimes crave, such as chocolate. The Cistercian nuns of Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, Massachusetts have been making chocolate for more than 60 years. Some say it’s so good, it’s like a religious experience.
Founded in 1949, and located about 35 miles southwest of Boston, the grounds of the Abbey are spread out over 600 acres. That's where 50 catholic nuns, also known as the "Trappists," live a contemplative life of work and prayer. And one way the sisters financially sustain themselves is by making chocolate.
Sister Sofia Millican gave us a show and tell of the production — how the nuns make Trappistine Quality Candy. She showed us how their signature brittle — called "munch" — is placed on the assembly line in neat rows.
Part of the sisters' spiritual life is living by the labor of their hands. They begin their day by rising at 3 a.m. for a prayer service. By mid-morning, they're making chocolate.
“Munch is our favorite," said Sister Sofia, "and we also produce chocolates, milk chocolate, dark chocolate with or without almonds. We also make maple walnut penuche with and chocolate fudge, with or without almonds.”
The sisters may come from an old-world order, but they try to live self-sustainably by using renewable energy — wind, geothermal and solar.
Inside the new chocolate factory, which was built in 2013, you can’t hear loud machine noises. That’s because the machines — like the nuns — are very quiet during the entire candy making process.
“One of our values here living our monastic life together is silence. That we work together quietly, so that we can be aware of the presence of God while we work, and that’s also the reason why we sought out quieter machines," said Sister Sofia.
We watched as sisters went to work, using machines and conveyor belts to manufacture the candy. One machine heats up the chocolate and layers it onto the candy. Another machine coats the candy with munch. Finally, after the candy cools, the chocolate goes on a conveyor belt, where the sisters weigh the candy and place about 14 pieces in a box.
Summer is their slow time — during the holidays, output is much higher. But on this day, during a two-hour stretch, the sisters can make about 400 boxes of chocolate candy.