An inside view of Beemster
Posted by by Jenny Hodges, cheese specialist at Byerly's St. Louis Park
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Our days were action packed with education, tours and tastings lead by Kees and Saskia, who were our fabulous hosts from Beemster Cheese. They took us all over the Beemster Polder area which was truly breathtaking! For those of you not familiar with Polders, they are areas of land that have been reclaimed from the sea using a series of windmills and canals to pump and keep the water out. The Beemster Polder which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site was reclaimed from the sea in 1612 and lies 20 feet below sea level. The Beemster Polder is about 15x15 miles of land and the Beemster Co-Op consists of about 450 farmers. We have been talking to our customers about this unique land for so many years it was great to finally see for ourselves what it really looks like.
As you drive down the one lane roads lined by trees on each side it is an awesome sight to see the cows grazing 20 feet below you in perfectly aligned pastures, each surrounded by canals that serve as fences in which to keep the cows contained and the land irrigated (and of course keep too much water out). The Beemster Polder provides a unique environment for cheese making due to the terroir in which the cows live and graze. As a result of the blue sea clay that was left from the sea, less salt is used to make the Beemster cheeses and their flavor profile is more sweet and caramel-like. Customers at Lunds and Byerly’s often ask why the Beemster cheeses are so creamy even when aged for 18 months or longer and the answer lies within the clay and the luscious, thick, green grass that grows on it.
One of the most memorable experiences on our trip was the tour to the beautiful village of Edam where we visited one of the Beemster Aging facilities. Cheese is transferred to this location after a designated amount of time to be cared for by Mirriam (and her family) who greeted us at the door of the beautiful/historic warehouse she owns with her brother and has been in her family for generations. To say it was an unforgettable experience is an understatement… the old handcrafted wood work alone had me in awe, not to mention the hundreds of wheels of cheese surrounding us on old wooden planks as we walked through the warehouse. There was such a sense of history and tradition within this building and to see how much pride these people take in preserving the old ways was inspiring. I cannot stop talking to customers, staff, and friends who inquire about our trip to Holland about the beautiful handcrafted woodwork that the same style of cheese has been aging on for centuries.
One morning we went to the Alkmaar cheese market with our hosts Kees and Saskia. This cheese market is held on a weekly basis in the middle of the town square to show the traditional way that cheeses were weighed and sold in Holland by farmers dating back to the mid 1500s. The guild that consisted of 4 teams, had groups of men that carried the cheese into the market to be weighed, taxed and priced. Each team had its own color and weighing scales. On this particular morning, Ruel was asked to participate in the demonstration which was great fun to watch as he ran with his team to have their cheese weighed and graded. Ruel smiled and danced as he ran through the market and is still talking about it today. Perhaps you have seen the reenactment of this in our stores when we carry the seasonal Spring Graskaas into our stores on the berrys each year.
Kees also took us on a tour of one of the farms that belongs to the Beemster Co-Op and we were able to see life on a typical Dutch farm. The farms are small due to land constraints (average farm has about 80 cows) and every inch is well utilized and planned out. Holland has very strict zoning restrictions and it never failed to amaze me each time we drove out of the city of Amsterdam (where we were staying) how the city ends abruptly and immediately there were farms and pastures. Urban sprawl does not exist in Holland- there are villages nestled into agricultural areas but they are well contained and do not sprawl into the farm lands. The farm itself was very clean and the entire grounds were neat and tidy. This is not unique to the farm. In all of the villages and places we visited the houses and landscaping were immaculate and on a Saturday afternoon we even saw a man on a ladder scrubbing the outside of his house with soap and water.
Our days flew by and soon we came to the end of our time at Beemster but I couldn’t help but think of all the knowledge we obtained during our brief stay. We learned so much about Beemster cheeses and how they are made. We met wonderful Dutch people who were delighted to share their expertise and excitement about cheese with us. We were able to see the beautiful Beemster area and see what makes it so different and special from other lands. We were all thrilled with our visit and are excited to share the knowledge and experiences we gained with our customers and staff.
Stop by the cheese counter at St. Louis Park and Edina to meet Ruel and Alicia or visit any Lunds or Byerly’s to taste the wonderful cheeses of Beemster.
If you’ve already tried Beemster cheeses, which is your favorite?