Marieke and Rolf Penterman have a passion for dairying that was larger than their home country, the Netherlands, could accommodate. In May of 2002, Rolf and his brother moved to Thorp, Wis., so they could more easily farm and expand their operation with fewer barriers. In looking for farming options, Rolf did apprenticeships around the world and liked the space available to farm in America and Canada. "You need room for farming. It is expensive to double your farm size in the Netherlands. With less money we could start a farm in Wisconsin," Rolf said. Although it wasn't easy to leave their family behind, the Penterman's made the move to America.
The brothers bought a farm in Thorp that had an almost new facility and 350 cows. Two years later, they grew the farm to 450 cows and, in the meantime, gained another partner. Rolf had met his wife, Marieke, in Canada before he came to America. She joined the business in 2003. The family continued to milk cows and grow their business until it was time to shake things up. "Marieke always wanted to do something before she turned 30. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board was promoting farmstead cheese, and I thought ‘We've got milk so why aren't we making cheese?'" Rolf shared. The Pentermans missed the Gouda from their home country and decided to try making it themselves. In November 2006, they made their first batch.
The Pentermans had no cheese-making experience at the start of their venture, so Marieke went back to the Netherlands. There she gained the skills needed to make authentic Dutch Gouda. After learning the ropes, the family was in business. They milk their cows at 5 a.m. and it goes straight from the milk line into the cheese vat. "Fresh milk is key for making good cheese," Rolf said. Part of the process includes aging their 23 varieties of Gouda for at least 60 days, complying with food safety standards. Their cheese is sold in specialty cheese stores all over the United States.
Rolf admits that cheese making and farming is a lot of work. But with hard work comes great rewards. After just four months, the family entered a contest and won a gold award for their Gouda. "That award put us on the map," Rolf said. Since that first contest, Holland's Family Cheese has entered and won many more contests. They have won honors in the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Product Contest in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Their biggest feat is winning Grand Champion of the 2013 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.
Making championship cheese definitely has a positive effect on sales. "From the hour they announced it, internet sales went up," Rolf shared of the big win. The Pentermans want to have a successful business, but that is not the sole reason they farm and make cheese. Rolf shared that he enjoys seeing people's reactions when they taste Holland's Family Cheese. "That's what we do it for. People like the cheese and appreciate what we're doing. It's not all about making money," he said.
The next step for the Pentermans is expanding their business and increasing their audience. They are starting a new farm and cheese plant off of the highway to attract more visitors. "It is the perfect location to show people how cows are milked and cheese is made. We think it's really important for people to understand why cheese is how it is," Rolf said. The new facility will allow tours by the public and should be ready by the end of the year.
At the end of the day, the Pentermans are still a family who loves to milk cows and work with others. "It's not just you; it's all about teamwork. We have a really dedicated team that is just like family," Rolf shared. The Pentermans and their family of employees will continue to put their heart and soul into making Gouda and milking cows. Be sure to stop by their booth (EH 6009) at Expo to sample some of their delicious cheese and get to know their team.
The author is the 25th Hoard's Dairyman editorial intern. She will be a senior at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. At Cal Poly, Taylor is majoring in dairy science with an agricultural communications minor. Pires grew up on a 500-cow dairy in Merced County, Calif.