After sharing a drink or two with my friends at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board at the last American Cheese Society Conference, we decided to collaborate on a project (this is how most things get done at ACS). I’d get to pitch a topic. My pick? The female cheesemakers of Wisconsin. I’d tell the stories of my choice of four of my favorite women cheesemakers in a series of blog posts. I loved interviewing these ladies, what they’re doing, and thank them for their time. This is the second of the series, focusing on Marieke Penterman of Holland’s Family Cheese.
There are three things that immediately stand out about gouda cheesemaker Marieke Penterman of Hollands Family Cheese. First, her passion for milk and cheese. Second, her devotion to her family. Third, that she’s suuuper nice- she smiled and waved hello to approximately fifty-three people during our interview at the American Cheese Society conference. And fourth, she might consider mixing up her dance moves when accepting cheese awards in the future.
Said Marieke, “I don’t want people to get bored.”
I laughed. Nine years after launching her cheesemaking career and over a hundred awards later, she’s in no danger of disenchanting. Still, I suggested salsa.
Marieke grew up on a farm in Holland with a herd of fifty cows and loved working with the animals. Though she’s always seemed destined for cheese, when she first launched her dairy in 2005, she just wanted to milk cows. But within months of experiencing the ebb and flow of fluid milk prices and urging from her mother, she decided to sign up for cheesemaking classes. They worked out. And with influences like Uplands Cheese and Joe Widmer of Widmer’s Cheese down the road, Marieke says, there was plenty of inspiration nearby.
Nine years later, Marieke still lights up when talking about milk’s “fascinating” transformation in the make room.
“I like to feel the curd, how vulnerable it is, how soft,” she says, “milk is amazing- delicious, nutritious….” She says, gazing into the distance as she goes on to list all the things milk can become. Ice cream, fromage blanc, butter, yogurt, cream, … (and about five other products I didn’t write fast enough to catch).
Holland’s Family Cheese might start making some of her beloved milk incarnations, since they opened a new dairy, shop, and visitor center a year ago that has more space. First though, Marieke’s priority is teaching more people about cheesemaking, since she says, “we can’t blame people for don’t understanding if we don’t give them the opportunity.”
Tours in the new dairy lead visitors throughout all steps of the process from making and aging, to packing and selling. The creamery also has windows so guests can watch the cheesemakers add rennet, cut curds, and press wheels.
But education at Holland’s Cheese doesn’t stop with the visitors. Among Marieke’s top priorities are involving her five children in the life of the creamery. If guests look carefully, they might catch a glimpse of one of Marieke’s children gently practicing folding cheese paper over a young gouda wedge between doodling with Crayons (like I did when visiting for my book). Or, spot the desks Marieke put next to the creamery so her children could do their homework. More than one of her children sat in their strollers as babies while watching her and her husband make cheese.
Wisconsin female cheesemakers I interviewed for this series with young children cited Marieke’s incorporating her children into her dairy life in addition to her good business sense as inspirational. Seems like it goes both ways.
“The young and new cheesemakers inspire me,” Marieke says, “They make me want to do better.”
According to Marieke, Master Cheesemaker Pam Hodgson of Satori cheese has been nudging her to start the classes to become a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker, which would make her the third woman to earn the honor after Pam. If her shining eyes were telling, I don’t think she’d take much more nudging to make the move in a year or three down the road.
Full disclosure, the WMMB sponsored my project. Written only about cheesemakers whose wheels I love, these posts are edited only by me.