Monasteries | Westmalle (B)
For over 200 years, the Trappists of Westmalle have chosen to live a life of prayer and work – that is their true vocation, according to the Rule of St. Benedict: “Then they are truly monks when they live by the work of their hands.” And whatever else remains goes to help persons in need, according to this old monastic tradition. In order to be able to do that, the Trappists of old developed various crafts and industries. The monastery of Westmalle has a farm, a cheese business and – without doubt, the best known – a brewery.
There’s a brewery within the walls of Westmalle, just as in all the Trappist monasteries in Belgium. The monks deliberately limit their production, with special care for the human person and the environment. Three kinds of beer are brewed: Triple, Double and Extra.
Triple and Double are offered for sale: you can find these beers in restaurants, large chain stores, specialty shops and beer distribution centers throughout Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as in selected establishments all over the world. Extra is only brewed twice a year, for use within the monastery itself: the monks and their guests drink this beer with their meal at noon.
Since its foundation in 1794, Westmalle has had a farm. For many years the monks both worked the fields and raised cattle, but since 1932 they’ve devoted the farm entirely to raising cattle. The present herd consists primarily of Groning White-faced, a breed of beef cattle originating in Groningen in the Netherlands. During the summer months, one can admire the animals grazing in the meadows near the monastery buildings.
The spacious barns within the monastery walls can accommodate about 300 animals. About a hundred dairy cows are housed in a modern stanchion barn, along with the young cattle and the bulls for breeding. This has several advantages: the cows themselves are much more relaxed, they can live to be much older, and the human contact with the animals doesn’t have to be sacrificed. Kindness to animals has always been a goal on the farm. The dairy cows are milked twice a day and, to lessen the cows’ stress, soft background music is played during the milking process. Most of the milk is used by the monks to produce their own cheese, and what remains goes to a nearby dairy.
The cheese business
In addition to having a brewery and a farm, the monks of Westmalle have also been making cheese since as far back as 1860 – a semi-soft, ripe cheese which is quite popular locally. The monks make the cheese themselves without any help from outside employees.