UPDATED 1/27/2015: Congratulations to Marieke, being named 2015 Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer of the Year this past weekend. You can learn more about this award and Marieke at The Country Today.
In 2013 Madison, Wisconsin hosted the American Cheese Society Conference. Every night offered parties filled with cheese, rubbing elbows with Cheese Swells, music and dancing… the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board event took place on the roof of the Monona Terrace, designed in 1938 by Frank Lloyd Wright. That is where I met Marieke and also had the pleasure of watching her dance… this woman loves to dance…
In less than five years after making her first wheel of Gouda, Marieke Gouda won Grand Champion honors at the 2013 U.S. Cheese Championship to go with more than ten other awards won that year for her cheeses… plenty of reasons to dance…
Despite her busy schedule, Cheesemakers seldom get days off, Marieke agreed to answer a few questions for my website. Her answers are delightful; you’ll love reading about her:
Briefly tell me about yourself. How did you come to cheese? Did you attend school or grow-up in the dairy business?
“Born and raised in Netherlands on a 60 cow dairy farm, Dutchie. As a little kid I fell in love with cows and decided that I wanted to become a veterinarian. But life changed this, as I finished my bachelor degree in dairy business and met my (future) husband during an internship in Canada. It took about 6 years before we started dating and it happened just when Rolf immigrated to this little 1600 people town, called Thorp. He sent me an email ending with the following sentence “if we want to have a cup of coffee, we should plan that soon, because we found this beautiful farm in Thorp WI, otherwise we won’t see each other again…” and that was the beginning of my second “home-land” America.
We have 5 children (we do thinks quickly ;-)), Twin girls Luna and Joyce (10 years), Dean (8 years), Fenne (7 years) and Finn (5 years). But after the twins were born, I started to think about starting my own business. You have these milestones in life and for me it was that I wanted to start my own business before I would be 30 years. On the other hand, I
really missed our Dutch cheese, Gouda a farmstead (and mostly raw milk) cheese, so I would ask family and friends to take cheese along when they would come and visit us. But due to luggage restrictions, our cheese supply got less and less.
So one evening when I just couldn’t fall asleep and heard a cow in the back ground (she was calving) it hit me… a business before 30, low cheese supply and the good Wisconsin milk, right here on the farm….. So I woke up Rolf and told him that we should start making our own cheese, Gouda… and like every good husband he said: “that is a great idea… let’s talk about it tomorrow”. The next day I started to researching this idea and came in contact with DBIC (Dairy Business Innovation Center) an organization that helps people like us with a farmstead idea (unfortunately they had to close their doors two years ago). They told me that I had to get my cheesemakers license, so I went back to school and got my licenses in October 2006 just a month before I made my very first batch of Gouda and we opened the doors of the on-farm retail store a month later, just 10 days before I turned 30 .”
Describe a “typical” day making cheese and caring for your cheese until it leaves you.
“When we started making cheese, I had no experience at all, I “walked-along” one day with a lady that had 10 cows and made ¼ of that milk production into cheese and one day with a farmer that has 200 cows and makes everything into cheese and both days were in the Netherlands. Then Virgil Schunk from Gingerbread Jersey Cheese took me under his “cheese-wing” and showed me how to make Cheddar, Colby and other cheeses, except Gouda. So when we started I thought that I would do this with some help from Rolf….. Wow, no cheese making is a little bit more than that… So Martha joined and shortly after Kim and now 8 years later, we have a 30 (part and full time) member strong “Marieke-Gouda team” going on.
We make cheese from Monday through Saturday and we get the milk straight from the cows, the cows get milked at 5.00 am, 1.00 pm and 9.00 pm. The morning milking goes through a pipe under the ground, straight into the cheese vat. Within 5 hours after the milk left the cow’s udder, we have it made in a beautiful Marieke Gouda wheel. Because our cheese is very “natural”, we don’t add any coloring or preservatives to it, but let the cheese soak up its own salt, by putting it in our brine for 60 hours. After that it goes into our Ageing room where we put two layers of para-coating on by hand.
The first 14 days in the ageing room, we flip and clean the cheese every day after that we flip and clean the cheese twice a week, until it leaves us…..
Because we make a raw cow milk Gouda, we have to wait at least 60 days before we can sell it. Right now we have a wheel that is 7 years old and one that is 5 years old. But maybe it is sold out as I “type”. We are very fortunate that we got rewarded many prizes and one of the highlights were the 2013 US cheese championship… were we became the US cheese champion 2013….”
How do you “create” a new cheese? I’d like to understand both the creative and practical process.
“Ever since we started making Gouda, we have mainly concentrated on making Gouda, our equipment is custom made for us in the Netherlands and our cultures also come from the Netherlands.
Everyone has their own expertise and ours is mainly Gouda. We started to make a “Marieke Golden” American Original that was inspired by the demand of the vegetable rennet market….
Our culture supplier helped us develop a new kind of flavor and instead of the veal we now use the vegetable rennet, suitable for vegetarians. We were very lucky and don’t had a mismatch batch, but we did have to determine the right ripening age for the fullest flavor… and that would be 9 months for the Marieke Golden.”
Do you have a favorite cheese or type? What would be your perfect pairing with this cheese?
“Totally depends on the purpose…. For a fantastic tasting grilled cheese sandwich it would be a young Gouda… for just a snack to grab … the Foenegreek Gouda… for an evening social love brie and wine.
For a glass of beer we need black pepper mix Gouda. Love Sartori’s, Chai cheese, Brick cheese from Joe Widmer and then an all time, every time favorite is Cesar’s String Cheese. Ooo there are so many good ones…. It is hard to name one without the other.
Raw vs. Pasteurized? Your thoughts, both philosophically and in practice. Does it matter? What difference does it make in the final product?
That is an interesting conversation, I personally believe in raw milk products, but we have to be careful with it too. I believe that it is healthier for a person, if you have a good beginning product. If the milk that you use is fresh and safe then it will result in a full flavor and healthy tasty end-product.
When we started making cheese we pasteurized the milk because we didn’t want to wait 60
days before we could sell cheese. So then we slowly started making some raw milk batches and then a distributor asked if we could do some comparison cheese demo’s raw vs pasteurized, same age. Customers couldn’t tell the difference… sometimes they would walk away with a piece of pasteurized Gouda, saying that they could definitely tell that it was raw milk Gouda.
Maybe the pasteurization process is part of it, we used a batch (lower temp, longer time) pasteurizer vs htst (high temperature short time) pasteurization. In my own opinion; Pasteurized cheese can taste just as wonderful as raw milk cheese, but I believe (if used a safe begin product) that it will be healthier for your body to digest a raw milk product.”
Should the US create a system similar the European scheme of protecting, controlling and/or regulating specific cheeses?
“When we started making our Gouda, I was not sure if we should call it a Gouda, as there are some bad Goudas on the market and if a customer had a bad tasting Gouda, they most likely will assume that all Goudas taste like that. But we did call it Marieke Gouda due to the name recognition, bad or good….. And hoping that ours would hopefully give a pleasant experience.
I think that everyone is entitled to make a certain kind of cheese, parmesan, gruyere, Colby, brie, etc. but there should be a better definition of identity in place and be controlled. I think that would help us all, to make sure that certain points in the making process are followed. How do we keep the uniqueness? Gouda for an example is a water washed curd… what if we would say that the wash water should be in a certain reach, then the cheese maker can still decide herself what her wash temp and time should be. And everyone has its own cultures. The ageing is different… but could have certain criteria like a min and max ageing temp, moisture and the cheesemaker could make its own wood choice…”
Tell me about one of your “cheese journeys”. Was it traveling for pleasure or maybe “on the hunt” for an obscure cheese you just had to taste?
“Well can I share with you a cheese journey that includes our dog…?
So our Foenegreek Gouda was totally sold out and not only myself but also my kids need the Foenegreek Gouda, so went to our local butcher who carries our cheese…. But no, no Foenegreek, then we drove 45 minutes to a cheese store, hoping that they would still have some Foenegreek Gouda…. One pie-cut!!! Hoping that I would be recognized, while I’m buying our own cheese back……. Then we drove back, straight to the kitchen, cutting it up while the kids quick changed into their pjs… put it on the coffee table in the living room, go back to get some drinks and while I’m walking back into the living room, our dog Buddy crosses me…. I continue my journey to the coffee tables, with the drinks… and discover an empty plate…. Kids just came into the room and I gave them the look and asked if they ate all the cheese and then we all said… “BUDDY!!!!!!” apparently we weren’t the only ones that needed a Foenegreek fix…. I’m laughing now about it….”
Please share with me one fun, non-cheesy fact about you.
“In my enthusiasm I sometime forget to filter what comes out of my mouth and when I hear good (dance) music, I’m gone… dancing…..”
If you could do one thing, anything, all day long, what would it be?
“Go to the ocean with my family and have some water fun and go out and dance in the evening with Rolf.”
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for my readers.
My thanks to everyone participating in my 2015 Virtual Q&A with Cheese Professionals. I hope all of you, my loyal readers, are enjoying this as much as I am…
Interviews will continue throughout 2015… sometimes, they will be “stand-alone” and sometimes they will be presented as round-table discussions with several Cheese Professionals answering the same question. Those participating include Cheesemakers, ACS CCPs™, Cheesemongers and Cheese Professionals and Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.
List of 2015 Cheese Professionals.
List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.
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