Monk business: Cheese, beer and heavenly gingerbread at Averbode abbey


A new meeting place offers the best of the Norbertine monks’ food and drink – including a beer that’s not available anywhere else

On food and drink in Flanders

We think of monasteries as havens of peace and contemplation. In fact they’ve always been places of business as well.

Since the middle ages, monks have divided their time between prayer and labour – ora et labora, the motto of the Benedictine Confederation. Monasteries used the products of their labour – bread, cheese, honey and of course beer – for themselves, and sold the surplus.

And so it goes today. The monks of Averbode Abbey are Norbertines rather than Benedictines, but the principle remains the same. On the grounds of the abbey, where the three provinces of Antwerp, Flemish Brabant and Limburg meet, there used to be a print works. But the money has gone out of the printing business these days, so another purpose had to be found.

That became Het Moment, an eatery and shop for people to gather in surroundings of peace and tranquillity and enjoy some of the abbey’s products. Well, up to a point. In 2014, the abbey came to an arrangement with Brouwerij Huyghe of Melle, the brewers of Delirium Tremens, to produce an Averbode ale. Other licensees make Averbode bread and cheese. 

Unique opportunity

The premises are a mix of rustic and modern, bare brick, chrome and refectory tables. There’s also a large terrace, which was highly popular in the summer.

There’s also a bookshop, a cheese counter, a bread and beer section, and even a small bakery making sourdough bread for consumption in-house or to take away. It also provides a unique opportunity to try Het Moment ale, brewed on the spot in a nano-brewery, and sold only here. It’s fresh and light, only 5.7% compared to its big brother’s 7.5%. Averbode Ale is also available.

The cheese is similar to Gouda in texture and taste, and comes in a cannonball round. The bread is perfectly acceptable, if anything slightly tame if you’re a big fan of sourdough.

The pièce de résistance, however, is the gingerbread, made for the abbey by Vondelmolen of Lebbeke and a triumphal blend of sweet and spicy – dense, heavy, chewy and rich with honey and ginger. Good news: it’s also sold in Delhaize supermarkets.

This article was first published in November 2016