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FoodMarieke Penterman Is Making Damn Good Gouda in the Heart of Wisconsin

Marieke Penterman Is Making Damn Good Gouda in the Heart of Wisconsin

We’ve teamed up with Wisconsin Cheese for an interview mini-series called Meet the Makers, featuring a sampling of the state’s finest cheesemakers and their award-winning creations.

In 2019 I was lucky enough to attend the annual American Cheese Society Awards, hosted that year in Richmond, Virginia. Of the many fond memories I have from that trip, there’s one in particular that tends to rise to the top of my mind whenever I’m reflecting on it: a massive sea of proud Wisconsin cheesemakers cheering each other on as the state took home win after win for its incredible cheeses. I lost count of the number of awards that the state’s cheesemakers took home for cheddars and cheese curds—I’d expected them to shine in those categories. What I wasn’t expecting was for a Wisconsin cheesemaker to take home not one, but two awards for Gouda, a cheese I’d long associated only with Europe.

That year, Marieke Gouda took home 1st place in the International-Style with Flavor Added category for their Bacon Gouda and 2nd place in that same category for their Foenegreek Gouda. But how did award-winning Gouda make its way to the midwest? I sat down with Marieke Penterman, founder of Marieke Gouda, to find out.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

MADISON TRAPKIN: What brought you to Wisconsin?

MARIEKE PENTERMAN: I grew up on a dairy farm in the Netherlands on a 600-cow farm. Holland is very small, it fits about five times in the state of Wisconsin, and we have about 80 million people, which makes [farming] quite challenging and very expensive. So in order for [my family] to continue dairy farming, we wanted to look abroad and where else can you go if you love cows and good cheese? Wisconsin, of course.

Wisconsin is America’s Dairyland, so that makes sense! How did you make your way to the cheesemaking side of things?

I’ve [always been] very proud to be a dairy farmer here in Wisconsin, but after a little while, I was missing my good kaas from Holland. I would go to the store here and I would find wonderful, beautiful cheeses, but I couldn’t find good Gouda. [I had a] crazy idea to start making [it] because we had good Wisconsin milk right here on the farm and it seemed like a great idea. The only problem I had was that I did not know how to make cheese.

Ah, a minor detail.

I had to go back to school here in Wisconsin to get my cheesemaker’s license, which I did in October 2006. But that did not mean that I knew how to make Gouda. So, I had to [go] back to Holland [where I] worked with a lady who had 10 cows and a dairy farmer that had 200 cows and it was really interesting to see what the difference between a smaller and a bigger Gouda producer was.

Photo by Dusan Harminc

What are the most important things to consider when you’re making Gouda?

As a Gouda cheesemaker you can play with your cultures, of course, but [you can also play with things like] your water—how much water do you add? And [what’s] the temperature of it? How long do you wash it? Those are all very important ingredients [that go] into creating your own recipe. I made my very first batch of Gouda in November of 2006.

What makes Marieke Gouda so unique?

First of all, I’m very proud of our cows. They produce a very high quality of milk and [we are] a farmstead creamery, which means that we have cows right here on the farm. When the cows are being milked, that milk goes straight through a pipeline under the ground into our cheese vat, so fresher than you can get it [from elsewhere]. It’s the high quality of milk and the really quick way of us being able to make it into a delicious wheel of Gouda ([which happens] within 5 hours) that makes our cheese really unique.

How does your Gouda compare to Dutch Gouda?

We do import some of the cheese equipment from the Netherlands just to come as closely as possible to the Dutch way of making it. Some of our ingredients come from the Netherlands, like our cultures and some of our herbs, but we are not as adventurous in the Netherlands as we are here in the United States. [At Marieke Gouda], we are a bit more extravagant with our flavors.

That reminds me of your Foenegreek Gouda—where did the idea for this flavor combo come from?

The first time that I was cooking the [with this] herb it made my whole kitchen smell horrible, to be honest. It smelled a little bit bitter and I was not sure if I wanted to add it to it, but we didn’t want to waste it either, so we added it to our very first batch of Foenegreek Gouda. [This cheese] uses a seed that tastes a little bit nutty, but smells like maple syrup. It’s very dear to me because it’s one of our signature cheeses.

Since making that first wheel in 2006, your cheeses have won quite a few awards! Can you tell me about some of those accolades?

We won a golden award right away with our Foenegreek Gouda, which was super exciting. At that time we were just with three people, and now we’re [a] team of 50 people…a team coming together [and] accomplishing great things [in order] to make the finest of fine Gouda. We just won more awards and that would put us [at] around 250 [awards]. In 2013 we were nominated [as] the best cheese in the United States. I also call it my green card because at that point my immigration lawyer said, “Let’s qualify you for the extraordinary ability route,” which they approved.

Photo by Dusan Harminc

What an amazing green card story!

I’m actually the first cheesemaker that got her a green card that way.

I believe it.

In 2011, I was nominated as the Grand Master Cheesemaker in the Wisconsin State Fair. [I was] the first woman to have ever accomplished that, so it was really an honor. And I kind of like winning.

It seems like there’s quite a bit of winning going on for you. What’s it like to be part of the Wisconsin cheesemaking community among so many other winners?

I started my career because I was missing Gouda from my home country and I wanted to start a business before I turned 30. I stumbled into this industry [filled with] camaraderie and I fell in love with the people. I’m a very proud cheesemaker, especially [in] Wisconsin, because the people are wonderful. They share their passion, and I think that’s something that bonds us in general in this industry. Wisconsin is cold, but the people in the industry are very warm and passionate.

I hear you’re working on your Master Cheesemaker Certification. What’s the process like?

Yes, I’m very proud to say that they accepted me in the Master Cheesemaker program. Ten years after you have your cheesemakers license, you can apply for the Master Cheesemaker program, which is a tough approval process. I kind of [wanted to] postpone it because I was a little bit nervous and when I finally went through the whole process and they approved me, I was very happy.

I’ve learned so much and it shows how much Wisconsin cares and the level of knowledge that is required to make really good cheese. If everything goes well, then I hope to be able to get my certification in 2025, which would make me the fourth woman Certified Master Cheesemaker in the United States.

That would be really incredible! I’m sure you’ll make it to that level. What else does the future hold for Marieke Gouda?

A lot of exciting things. We started basically with nothing 17 years ago, and I cannot wait to see what we will do in five years, ten years, or even 15 years down the road. One thing that’s for sure [is that] we want to make the best Gouda in the whole wide world.

What’s your favorite flavor of Marieke Gouda? Tell us in the comments below!

Our friends at Wisconsin Cheese are committed to showcasing all the amazing cheeses the state has to offer—and there’s a lot of them. Wisconsin has more flavors, varieties, and styles of cheese than anywhere else in the world. From Italian classics like Parmesan and ricotta to Wisconsin Originals like Colby and Brick, this cheese-obsessed state has a little something for everyone. Find out more about Wisconsin Cheese by visiting their site.


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