Hugo and Marije van der Poel and their three kids live and work in an exceptional place, on centuries-old farmland on an island right in the middle of a cluster of the Netherlands largest cities. The only way to reach their farm "Hoeve Waterrijk", where they produce authentic Boeren-Goudse Oplegkaas, is by a small boat. In the winter, the few families that live on the island have to take turns in clearing the ice by crossing the water repeatedly. While the world a few kilometres down the road struggles through traffic jams from one city to the next, Marije van der Poel looks up from the hard work to see her daughter horseback riding. It is an unlikely place in the urbanized west of the Netherlands.
"It is very beautiful indeed, but don't get too jealous, it is a tough life. You cannot get away for one day, really. And the days are long. I get up 6 am and go to bed at around 11 at night, with no days off. Our 145 red and black Holstein-Freisian cows always have to be milked and cheese always has to be made. Then, we have the other animals - pigs and sheep - and a whole lot of maintenance. We leave the farm for just one week a year for vacation. I always say that it has to be your hobby, otherwise you will not keep it up. Fortunately, it makes me happy."
“The farm has been in my husband Hugo's family for three generations. In 1932 it was allocated to his Grandpa after the previous owners went bankrupt. So he collected his few cows, his four kids and his wife, put them on a barge and punted everything through the polders (the tracts of low lands that used to be sea) to their new dwelling. That was the way it was done in those days. In the seventies, Hugo's dad took over the business and expanded it. In the 90’s Hugo and I took over in turn and started making the cheese like people have always done here. Our kids are still young, but the youngest keeps saying he wants to take over the farm when he grows up. But we'll see: he's just eight.”
The Boeren-Goudse Oplegkaas (roughly translated as ‘Farmers Lay On Cheese from Gouda’) has been made for centuries in the area. It is unique in taste because it is made from raw cow milk only, then laid on wooden shelves to age (hence ‘Lay On') for a year or more. The final product is rich and characteristic in taste, but can still be cut since the curd remains creamy, even after three or four years.
“The cheesemaking process is repeated every day and has to be the same each time to ensure constant quality. This is very important and even though I repeat it every day, the work always makes me feel excited and even a little tense. The cows are milked in the evening and the milk is put into tubs and chilled to eight degrees Celsius. The next morning they are milked again and the warm morning milk is mixed with the cool evening milk from the previous day. The milk is then heated slightly up to 29 degrees, rennet is added along with some saltpetre and calcium and then something incredible happens: the milk thickens in no time! After half an hour you can cut the now stiff milk. We do that with a sort of stainless steel roster. What you have then is curd, which we heat and stir some more before putting it in wooden barrels. This happens around 10 am. The weigh, the fluid residue, is fed to the pigs. And my sister in law makes a refreshing drink from it.”
“In 2003 we saw an advertisement of Slow Food asking if there were any cheese farmers making cheese the old way. We responded immediately. The creation of the Presidium that followed meant a lot: it gave recognition to our hard work and the possibility to sell to restaurants.”
“In 2009 we attended Cheese and it really was an experience to remember. It gave me energy for a year! It was incredible to see so many ordinary people - even children! - coming to your stand and buying your cheese. It is inconceivable that this would happen in Holland. It gave us so much recognition that what we are trying to do is a good thing and that it is worth doing.”
“This year, our cheese will be attending Cheese but unfortunately we cannot personally come ourselves. Like I said, the cows have to be milked and cheese has to be made. It has got to be your hobby!”
The Boeren-Goudse Opleg of the Van der Poels will be available at the international stand 14 Lindenhoff / Hoeve Waterrijk (Stand 14 Presidi Internazionali) at Cheese 2011. There you will also be able to taste the same sort of Cheese made by another Dutch producer: the family Captein who's son will be present at Cheese.
Click here to learn more about the aged artisan Gouda Cheese Presidium.