No matter how far we travel in life, we all carry traditions with us to keep the memories of where we came from alive. This is certainly true for Marieke and Rolf Penterman who brought their traditions across land and sea to share in Wisconsin. I had the honor of seeing the life they built in our state while visiting Thorp this September.
Marieke Penterman was born and raised in the Netherlands where she grew up on her parents' 60-cow dairy farm. After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Dairy Business, Marieke stayed in the agriculture industry as a farm inspector. Her future husband, Rolf Penterman, emigrated to Thorp, Wisc. and started a dairy farm in May 2002. Marieke followed a year later, but she did not leave her Dutch roots behind.
One of Marieke’s life goals was to start a business before she turned 30. Hard work and a craving for cheese helped make that happen. Missing the cheese from her home, Marieke did some research and decided to become a licensed cheesemaker in Wisconsin. She worked with a local cheesemaker and traveled back to her home country to learn how to make authentic Dutch Gouda cheese. They opened the doors of the farm retail store to sell cheese 10 days before Marieke turned 30.
Like a true Wisconsin cheesemaker, Marieke poured quality into her craft. Four months after releasing her first batch of Gouda, Marieke earned a gold award at the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest in 2007. She held the United States Grand Champion cheese in 2013 and continues adding to her collection of more than 100 national and international awards.
Marieke credits the quality milk from Penterman Farm for making exceptional cheese. Their dairy herd is housed in a freestall barn which gives cattle the opportunity to walk and lie down whenever they please. The barn has sand bedding, rotating back-scratcher brushes, sprinkler systems and fans to keep them cool in warm months. Start to finish, the milk from the cow can be made into cheese within four hours.
An agri-tourism spot in Wisconsin, Marieke and Rolf Penterman let guests view everything from the farm to cheesemaking up close in an open and educational environment. Making each of her 13 flavors of Gouda is a special process. Milk is piped directly from the cows into the cheese processing vat. Once curd forms, it is hand-packed into 18-pound molds before going under a press. After being pressed for nearly 2 hours, each 20-pound wheel is placed in a salt brine for 60 hours. The wheels of cheese then go to an aging room where they are aged on Dutch pine planks. The planks absorb liquid as the cheese ages. The cheese is turned daily for the first two weeks to make sure butterfat is even throughout the wheel. After that, the cheese is turned twice weekly for as long as it is in the facility.
In Wisconsin, we are fortunate to have choices among 600 varieties, types and styles of cheeses including specialty cheeses that win awards around the world. Marieke is among nearly 1,200 licensed cheesemakers in the state of Wisconsin who improve their craft with each batch. Every cheesemaker has his or her own recipe for success. The tradition that we carry forth in Wisconsin is producing cheese that stacks above the rest.