Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The American Dream

As a U.S. citizen born and raised in rural Wisconsin, I have only ever read or seen movies about what "The American Dream" must mean.

Yesterday, as I sat around a crowded farmhouse dinner table sharing a hearty meal of creamy soup, fried rice and chicken with Dutch emigres Rolf & Marieke Penterman, their twin three-year-old daughters, curly-haired infant son and extended family, I experienced what the American Dream must feel like, because I am watching the Pentermans make it happen.

Having moved to Wisconsin from the Netherlands in 2003 to operate a 480-Holstein dairy farm, Marieke - a newly licensed Wisconsin cheesemaker - and her family started crafting farmstead cheese in the style of their home country last fall. Yesterday was a big day at the farm - they hosted nearly 100 people for their farmstead creamery grand opening.

Talking amongst the crowd of Amish farmers, rural and urban neighbors, media reporters, industry representatives and government officials, Rolf & Marieke were beaming so hard it was impossible not to smile just being around them.

With their children scattered across the farmyard enjoying the many visitors, the sun shining without a cloud in the sky and the wind doing its best to knock over the big white tent in the front yard, Wisconsin officially welcomed the Pentermans to the American Dream.

Holland's Family Cheese is a first-class farmstead operation. I've never been on a dairy farm that was so clean, neat and orderly. The creamery - with a crib in the office and baby toys in the retail store - is a marvel in engineering. The pasteurizer, press and brine equipment was all manufactured in Holland and shipped here. Everything is positioned to be as efficient as possible - resulting in what may very well be my new favorite cheese.

Gouda.

That's GOWDUH, not GOOODA, the Pentermans will tell you. Wheel upon golden wheel rests on beautiful wooden boards in the creamery's affinage room - all carrying the label of "Marieke Gouda" in various sizes and flavors. Markieke sampled several of her flavors yesterday - she recently won a prestigious Best of Class Gold Medal at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest with her Feonegreek Gouda - but my favorite may be the simplest.

After we had cut and cubed dozens of wheels of flavored goudas, Marieke turned to me and said "Now, let's put out the good stuff." She went to the affinage room and brought back a 16-pound wheel of raw milk, 60-day plain gouda (the youngest age you can legally eat raw milk cheese in the U.S.)

Marieke was right - this WAS"the good stuff" - sweet & creamy - the kind of cheese you can eat until you're sick. I bought a pound to take home and ended up eating most of it on the 3-1/2 hour drive home.

Eating Marieke's Gouda is as close as I may ever get to truly experiencing the American Dream - knowing the cows were milked by Rolf and his brother Sander, the milk piped underground directly to the creamery, and Marieke crafting it into cheese while the milk is still warm. Makes me wish I lived closer.

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