It's amazing how heavy cheese can be. Now I know why cheesemakers have so many muscles.
On Monday, I had the awesome opportunity to make cheese with Marieke Penterman at Hollands Family Farm in Thorp, Wis. From adding the rennet to washing and then pressing the curd, to cutting the curd and then finally heaving giant blocks of pressed curd into forms and then into the cheese presses -- making cheese is a lot of work. It reminds me why I have so much respect for cheesemakers.
I left Madison at the insane hour of 5:20 a.m. (nothing like driving two hours in the dark to NOT wake you up) to get to Marieke's place in time to add the rennet to the morning's milk, which travels a whole distance of about 50 yards from the farm's milking parlor to the cheesrie. Four days a week, Marieke and her small crew turn 1,000 gallons of milk into 800 pounds of different styles of Dutch Gouda.
Monday marked the inaugural make of Basil Pesto Gouda - Marieke promised us we could try it in 60 days, as all of her cheeses are raw milk cheeses and must be aged a minimum of 60 days to satisfy USDA rules. I did eat some of the raw curd right out of the vat, though, and not surprisingly, I am still alive. Raw curd tastes a lot like whole milk, by the way - yummy.
All of Marieke's equipment, including her brand new double O cheese vat (it's shaped like a snowman) comes from her home country of Holland. All the equipment, all the ingredients, even the wax coating is shipped from Holland. As Marieke says, "the only thing from America is the milk."
In 2002, Rolf and Marieke moved to the United States to start a dairy farm and in 2006, Marieke built a cheese plant on the farm because she missed her Dutch Gouda so much. Since then, she's won dozens of awards for her Fenugreek, Raw Milk, Aged, Cumin, Black Pepper and Smoked Goudas, and it's easy to see why: she and her small staff are absolutely vigilant in their cheesemaking routine - every step is recorded, every batch is meticulously watched and sometimes even the "mistakes" taste good - such as the batch of green cheese she made a couple of months ago in honor of the Green Bay Packers, which actually turned teal. Whoops. It still tastes good, though.
I even had the honor of tasting the very first wheel she ever made in November of 2006 - she still has about a 2-pound wedge left - and wow, was it amazing. She's working on keeping a few wheels from certain batches to age out longer, and I can't wait. I bet an extra aged wheel of Marieke Gouda would taste like pure heaven.
Marieke doesn't only make good cheese - she makes amazing meals and is one of the most patient mothers I've ever seen. I can't even fathom how she gets everything done. The woman has four children - four-year-old twin daughters, a two-year old son and 1-year-old daughter.
And, she's expecting another baby Penterman in May - yes do the math - she will have five children under the age of five. OMG. She also makes lunch and dinner every day from scratch -- she made a special batch of homemade vegetable soup and rundulees scalada (Dutch potato salad with beef, pickles and onions) for us - of course all the staff takes turn breaking for lunch - who wouldn't with food like that available?
She's also a great boss and it's easy to tell that her staff adore her. Her husband, Rolf, is also an amazing guy - he manages the 800-cow dairy and also helps in the cheesrie. The pair make a great team. And I have a feeling the next generation will do just as well!