French monastery sells two tonnes of cheese after lockdown prayer for help

Citeaux Abbey clears stock in 24 hours after customers flock to buy raw-milk cheese

French cheese is displayed for sale at a supermarket in Joinville-le-Pont, near Paris, as sales of cheese eaten at home has rocketed over the last year amid lockdowns and restrictions in France, March 25, 2021, in this screen grab taken from a video. Picture taken March 25, 2021. Lucien Libert/REUTERS TV via REUTERS

A monastery sold two tonnes of its finest raw-milk soft cheese following an appeal to French gastronomes, after Covid-19 kept its regular buyers away.

The 19 monks at the Citeaux Abbey, south of Dijon in eastern France, cleared their stock in just 24 hours in an online fire sale of their award-winning cheese.

Citeaux Abbey normally only sells to restaurants, specialist dairy outlets and visitors to an on-site shop, but turned to a specialist internet retailer of monastic produce for help, after trade dried up.

“We tried explaining to our 75 cows that they needed to produce less milk but they don’t seem to have understood,” said brother Jean-Claude, in charge of marketing at the monastery, which was founded in 1098.

The abbey, which normally exports as far away as Japan, had seen sales slump by 50 per cent, with French restaurants closed since October 30 to curb coronavirus cases.

Citeaux Abbey struck a deal with Divine Box – an online retailer for products made in French monasteries – to sell thousands of the cheeses.

The cheese won a silver medal at last year’s prestigious international food and drink competition in Lyon.

The retailer had aimed to sell a tonne by Monday evening, but rapidly surpassed its target.

Some 2,006 kilograms of its cheese had been pre-ordered in 24 hours, based on a minimum order for two wheels at 23 euros ($27) each.

“There is no cheese left,” Divine Box said.