By Joshua Kato
On this Tuesday morning, October 10, six of the 13, 2020 best farmers were driven to Dalmsholterdijk, south of the Netherlands.
The latter part of the two-hour journey took the farmers through beautiful woodlands and tall trees that were planted years ago to create a green cover over the reclaimed land.
Of course, there were also many of the traditional Dutch water canals. The farmers were headed to Heileuver Cheese Farm, a dairy enterprise on 45 acres with 45 cows producing 1,000 litres of milk per day.
All the milk is processed into cheese. The group was received by Marinus Post, who owns the farm together with Joke van de Crommert.
“We were welcomed by trees and grasses as the cattle were grazing,” Immaculate Akullo, one of the farmers, says. Other team members were Phillip Kalera, Bob Kagoro, Hillary Sebayiga, Michael Opiyo, Gloria Karungi and Josephat Byaruhanga.
The farmers had landed in the Netherlands on Sunday, October 8. The farm had many attractions, including well-laid-out flower gardens, tall green trees, well-tended pasture, cows, and an art showroom.
However, one of the things that immediately caught the eyes of the farmers was the cheese store room.
“The store room, which was about 20×10 feet, had cheese worth billions of shillings. There are many dairy farms in Uganda with even more cattle, but do not add value on the farm as this farmer does,” Kalera said.
Beautiful dairy farm
The cows are mainly black and white; of the Friesian – Holstein breed, which is typically kept by the Dutch. Each of these has got a name.
One is called Bertha, another is Dora, another is Geertjes, etc. Bertha, Dora, Geertjes, and their friends yield a lot of creamy milk every day.
The farm is mechanised with several tractors for planting and harvesting grass, milking machines and a cheese processing unit.
During early spring, summer and into autumn, they graze and laze outside.
The visiting farmers found them in perhaps the last week of grazing outside because the cold winter was fast approaching. They are milked twice a day, using a semi-automated milking machine.
“They produce an average of 35 litres each, per day or about 1,000 litres for the 25 milking cows,” he says.
Almost all milk is processed into farmer’s cheese. This is a traditional product produced from raw milk. The taste of farmer’s cheese differs per farm and area.
Farmer’s cheese from the peatlands tastes different from that where the soils are sandy.
According to Marinus, each area has different grass for its cows, and one can taste it in the cheese. Furthermore, the season also determines the taste of the cheese.
In the spring, not only do the cows eagerly look forward to the fresh green meadows, but the consumer also looks up to better cheese.
After all, spring means grass cheese. According to Dutch livestock nutritionists, fresh grass contains carotene and that gives the milk a fuller, creamy and yellow colour, which one can taste.
Inside a room, about 20×20 feet is the machine that the farm uses to process cheese. It is a unit, worth about $70,000 (sh250m).
“It has the capacity to process 3,000 litres every after four hours,” Marinus, the owner said.
A complete cycle of cheese production takes four hours. Part of the milk is processed into natural or herb cheeses. The machine is operated by only two people.
“I use eight litres of milk to process one kilogramme of cheese,” Marinus says.
After processing, the product is stored in a cheese room, not far from the processing unit.
“This room has not been empty for the last 40 years,” Marinus told the farmers.
The room, equipped with a temperature regulating system has got thousands of cheese.
Josephat Byaruhanga, the agriculture policy officer at the Embassy of the Netherlands, implored the farmers to think like Marinus and add value to their produce.
“You can clearly see the value in milk here at this farm. This cheese you see is milk stored in a different form. You may not start as large as this but start at your own small level,” he said.
Farm cheese shop
“A large part of the cheese is sold in our farm shop,” Marinus says.
The shop, next to the reception of the farm has got all types of cheese. A kilogramme goes for 16 Euros (sh64,000).
However, if he had sold raw milk, he would have earned about four euros per litre. Additionally, there are other beverages, for example, wines and oils that locals commonly need.
The visiting best farmers then decided to buy several kilogrammes of cheese from the farm.
History of Dutch cheese
The farmers learnt from Marinus that the Netherlands is the second-highest producer and exporter of cheese in the world.
The earliest cheese in the Netherlands was produced as early as 800 BC. Actually, cheese production was already going on in other parts of the world much earlier than this date.
However, once the Dutch started to make cheese, there was no stopping them. One of the main reasons is that the soil in the Netherlands proved very suitable for it.
The lowlands, often below sea level, resulted in wetlands that were very suited for quality grass growth. This resulted in cow farming and, subsequently, milk and cheese production.
“I feed my cows on this special grass because it increases the amount of cream in the milk,” Marinus said.
This means that the cheese is not only tastier, but he also needs fewer litres of milk to make a kilogramme of yoghurt.
In the Netherlands in the Middle Ages, cheese production developed further, including creating cheese with a high shelf life.
These cheeses with a firm consistency were ideal for export, and that’s how people all over the world got exposed to Dutch cheese.
Marinus said the high quality and good reputation of Dutch cheese have resulted in a large portion of it being exported.
Production has grown to almost one million metric tonnes annually, and around 90% of that is exported.
Unsurprisingly, the Netherlands is the second largest cheese exporter in the world. For this reason, Dutch cheese is also known as “yellow gold”.
But even on a consumer level, cheese is important to the Dutch, as the farmers discovered. On average, they eat around 21 kilos of cheese per year.
The majority of cheese is consumed as a sandwich filling, but eating cheese cubes as a snack during gatherings and parties is also very popular.
“We have had cheese on every meal that we have eaten here,” Karungi said.
This shows how important it is. Marinus said traditionally, Dutch cheese was traded in open markets in various cities.
These cities were the places that had “weighing rights” for cheese. He explained that the cities where cheese markets developed were mainly situated in the Northern provinces.
Alkmaar, Gouda, Edam, Hoorn, and Woerden used to be the most famous cheese markets. Interestingly, the oldest markets were Haarlem (1266), Leiden (1303), and Oudewater (1326).
The only active cheese market these days is Alkamaar, where visitors can see how the market was traditionally operated.
But as mentioned, cheese tourism is a big thing here, so you can go visit a cheese museum, take a boat cruise specifically for wine and cheese tasting.