Teamwork. Period. That should technically be the end of this article, but since that falls short of an enjoyable read, I should elaborate.
Every time Marieke Penterman, owner and cheesemaker at Holland’s Family Cheese and current U.S. Grand Master Cheese Champion, is asked about how she
does it — running a growing business, raising five children, being married to “the sexiest man in the world” — she’ll just smile and tell you she has “the best
|Marieke Penterman (holding the trophy) is surrounded by her cheese team. Back row (from left): Kari Skibbie (sales director), Phil Miller (founder of Thorp Cheese), Cindy Alger (store associate), Ashlyn Nowobielski (shipping coordinator), Penterman, Rolf Penterman, Cecylia Rakowska (culture supplier), Kimberly Rabuck (general manager) and Martha Herrera (cheesemaker). Middle row: Rocio Herrera (cheese affinier) and Lore Nowobielski (shipping associate). First row: Eva Herrera Sanchez (cheese affinier), Chris Anderson (store manager), Cristian Zamudio (cheese affinier) and Rose Gulcynski (assistant store manager).|
cheese team in the world.”
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Marieke grew up on her parents’ 60-cow dairy farm where her passion was ignited for dairy cows. After getting her bachelor’s degree in dairy business, she began a career as a farm inspector. In 2002 her (future) husband, Rolf Penterman, emigrated to Thorp, Wis., and started what is now an 850-cow dairy.
Marieke followed Rolf to the United States in 2003 and once settled in, started to miss the cheese from back home. So she began looking into starting her own business. She went back to school to get her Wisconsin cheesemaking licenses in 2004. She began working with a local cheesemaker and traveled back to her home country where she worked alongside two different cheesemakers.
Four months after the first batch of farmstead Gouda cheese was crafted in their little creamery, the team captured its first gold award at the U.S. cheese competition in 2007. The awards continued to roll in as did 11 more team members. In 2011, Marieke was the first woman to capture the grand master cheesemaker title at the Wisconsin State Fair. She set her sights on conquering the U.S. title.
Alongside fellow cheesemakers Martha Herrera and Chris Anderson, Marieke and her team hand-craft authentic Dutch, raw cow’s milk Gouda Cheese and age it in their curing room on Dutch pine planks. To ensure the quality of her products, Marieke goes the extra mile and has each batch of cheese tested for Salmonella, Lisiteria and E. coli. That adds cost but Marieke and her team believe you cannot put a price on peace of mind.
When it comes to picking out the cheese wheels to enter into a contest, Marieke has all of her team members pick out the flavor and wheel of the cheese they want to enter. Not only does the cheese’s taste and texture need to be spot-on, but the wheel must look and feel perfect. Chris Anderson, one of the cheesemakers as well as the Store Manager, picked out this year’s winning wheel.
When the competition finally arrives, the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association has a core team that work to ensure the competition goes off without a hitch. This team is lovingly referred to as “The B Team.” The B Team asks for volunteers to help at the competition every year, and Marieke encourages everyone on her team to help. This year Marieke, and Chris and Rose Gulcynski (the assistant store manager) were able to make the trip to Green Bay to help with the competition.
When the announcement was made close to 9:30 p.m. on March 13 and their name was not called for the second runner up or the first runner up, Marieke said her heart sank.
“I thought it was going to be a repeat of 2009” when the team took home the first runner-up in the same contest, but not THE big prize. She recalls watching in disbelief as the judge reached for her wheel and held it above his head. Their excitement could not be contained.
Pandemonium ensued while the three screamed, jumped, hugged and high-fived their way to the front. For the first time in Marieke Penterman’s life, she was speechless. Not even two hours after the announcement was made, orders began to pour in and did not stop for weeks. To this day, we have a waiting list full of customers anxious for a taste of this magnificent cheese.
For this small-town business, sales increased by 62% in one month, and have held steady at around 50% since then compared to 2012. The company has come a long way since it first stepped foot onto the cheese scene. We are breaking ground on a new facility in Thorp, Wis. The new dairy and creamery are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year and in full production by the end of December.
Although Marieke Penterman — mother, wife, team leader, business owner, cheesemaker and U.S. Cheese Champion — likes to give all of the credit to her hard-working team, they believe they would not be such a great team without a great leader like Marieke.