Tastes of the Region #12: Monk’s Bread

For many, mention communal-living and religious orders in Western New York and you’ll inevitable invoke images of the experiments of the Burnt-Over District (1820s-1860s)—the Mormons, the Oneida Community, Timbuctoo or the Shakers. However, in Piffard, in the Genesee Valley, there is a thriving religious community of Trappist Monks: the Abbey of the Genesee.

Most residents of the Genesee Valley have not been to the Abbey, but are familiar with its most famous creation, small, tasty loaves of
Monk’s Bread available in groceries throughout the region. The loaves come in several flavors, including white, whole wheat, raisin and sunflower seed, each marked with the distinctive image of the Trappist monk on the front.

The Trappist monks, formally called the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, is a Catholic order that strictly follows the rules of St. Benedict. While the Order is male and practices strict gender segregation, they do have a female branch (the “Trappestines”) Today there are almost 170 abbeys owned by the Order populated by around 2,500 monks and 1,800 nuns. Though the Order traces its foundations to the
Rule of St. Benedict in the 6th century, it has recently gained world-wide fame through the writings of Thomas Merton. As a strict contemplative Order, the monks and nuns live lives of prayer and penance:
The day of a Trappist is divided between work and prayer. Manual work is preferred over other types of work and Trappist monasteries generally provide for themselves through the sale of goods produced in the monastery. Prayer is divided between the Divine Office, Lectio Divina and various other forms of meditative and contemplative prayer. Except for the ill, they abstain from meat, fish and fowl. To the extent that it is practical, they are expected to remain silent throughout the day and most especially at night. They are expected to live a life of strict personal poverty with few personal possessions and limited contact with the outside world.

"Strict Observance" does mean stricter silence, certain situations excepted. Contrary to popular belief, they don't take a vow of silence. However they will generally only speak when necessary, and idle talk is strongly discouraged. Meals are usually taken
in contemplative silence. (from Wikipedia, “

The bread delicious, if a bit small for the type of sandwhich that I enjoy, and the raisen variety in particular is an excellent as breakfast toast. While it is generally available in most Genesee Valley Wegmans and other stores, the best way to acquire the bread is to visit the Abbey itself.

Located on River Road, which, if one is heading from the Geneseo direction, is a right-hand turn off of Route 63/Genesee St. after Piffard and before Retsof. The bread store is open from 8 AM to 11 AM, 1:30 PM to 3:30 PM and 5:30 to 6:30 PM. If you get a chance, a detour into the devotional chapel (which is open when not in use) is a real highlight, it is one of the most beautiful small devotional rooms I have ever been in. However, don’t be surprised if you don’t see a monk (and if you do, don’t expect him to be interested in conversation); payment for the bread is optional and done through a small slot in the wall. Even without the option of not paying, the prices are exceptional—far lower than what one sees at the grocery- and there is much wider selection of baked goods: I remember pies, date or nut loaf, fruit cakes and brownies. The best news is that the bread itself freezes well, so you can stock up on the ocassional visit.

In conclusion, the Monk’s Bread and the Abbey of the Genesee are little local gems that definitely deserve a place on your table or a detour if you’re heading down Route 390.

-Posted by Jesse


Joe said...

I work for the variety of baking companies under the phildelphia based monopoly George Weston. Stroehman Pennyslvania Dutch Baking company carries Monk's bread throughout most of upstate NY and northern pennyslvania and probably downstate too. But whatever, Monk's Bread is owned by Weston and baked in its giant bakeries,(Stroehman aint baked by pennyslvania deitsche either) some aren't owned by weston but that's irrelevant- cuz the Monk's aint baking the bread you buy at Weggies or price chopper or that independant grocer down on hippy street ithaca, they still bake and distribute their bread up in York, NY but their loaves aint ending up on your breakfast table down in elmira or up in syracuse or over in Walton/deposit/sherburne/earlville... The new monk's code is in the computer I use for freihofer,
it's like 8200.

Yo these monk's are sell-outs, the purpose of their deal is to do work, and not for commercial gain.

The link below is just talking about all the stroehman products and their new code changes for drivers. You can follow the link from weston-stroehman-monk's, and there's even contact info for some G Weston guy if you're so inclined. I'm pretty sure Verona has a bakery that does stroehman products, but I'm a sleuth and I'll just ask. Becauuuuuuuuse, when you buy products in grocery stores that say you're helping these little baby monk's or helping koalas or helping save dolphins stuck in trees you're probably just falling for some big corporate trick. If you wanna help the trappist capitalist monks just donate some cash or go on their tour up in york, they'll gladly take your money.

Joe said...

Oh yeah, Jesse's pro-capitalist, that's why I posted that.

Jesse said...

You make excellent points Joe, I hadn't reflected upon the implications of the wide range of Monk's Bread and the fact that 35 monks probably have their hands full making enough bread for Rochester, not to mention Syracuse, Buffalo, Binghamton, etc. However, a lack of reflexivity does not a capitalist make.