She Did It Her Whey

June 8, 2020

She Did It Her Whey

Picture an artisan cheesemaker dressed in crisp whites from head to toe, surrounded by Dutch pine planks that are stacked to the ceiling with wheels of handcrafted gouda.

What music do you think is playing? Mozart? Beethoven? Bach?  Nope. It’s Pearl Jam. And it’s turned up loud, baby.

That’s because this is Marieke Penterman, and she’s not your typical cheesemaker. Marieke—a fiery Dutchwoman-turned-Wisconsinite who dances to Drake between batches and can tell when curds are ready just by feeling them—is an expert at the unexpected.

Take, for example, that iconic moment when she busted out the Kiki Challenge dance onstage while accepting a national award from the American Cheese Society.

Or when she tells the story of her first cheesemaking teacher—a feisty 60-year-old woman back in Holland whose first batch of cheese was made in a bathtub.

Marieke is comfortable bucking tradition in favor of innovation. It’s part of the reason she chose to make Old World Gouda in the heart of Wisconsin: combining traditional Dutch techniques with the world’s best milk. 

It all started when she moved to Wisconsin with her husband to live out their dreams of dairy farming. There was just one problem: Marieke couldn’t find quality gouda anywhere. The only solution? Make it herself! 

Marieke combined the magic of Wisconsin milk with the historic tradition of Dutch cheesemaking. It was a risk; a true test to see if her innovative approach to cheesemaking—one that relies on gut feeling as much as it does time-honored techniques—would work.

Marieke’s wry response sums it up: “Apparently, it does work.” Just one year after Marieke crafted her first batch of gouda in 2006, she captured a gold award at the 2007 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. 

To say her innovative technique “works” is an understatement on par with “cheese is pretty tasty.” Marieke’s cheesemaking chops earned her a green card through the “extraordinary ability” route, which is typically only available to professors and athletes.

She was named the U.S. Grand Champion—basically winning the Superbowl of cheese—and is even the first woman to receive the Grand Master Cheesemaker title, a prestigious award given to only the most accomplished cheesemakers.

So, what makes her gouda so...gouda?

“The milk quality is very important,” says Marieke. “We’re a farmstead creamery, so that means we milk cows right here on the farm, and then that milk goes straight through a pipeline into our cheese vat.” It’s hard to imagine anything fresher.

The other component: intuition. “I’m not a science cheesemaker,” says Marieke. “I feel and touch. I always say I’m more of a lucky cheesemaker.”

If you ask us, luck has nothing to with it. Marieke’s hard work, warmth, and talent have earned her respect and love from her staff, her customers, and from fellow Wisconsin cheesemakers—not to mention over 150 awards and accolades.

“The cheese world is so wonderful. People are so helpful,” she says. “I think other industries could learn something from the cheese world, to work better together.”

And we could all learn from Marieke - a truly talented cheesemaker who challenges the status quo and subverts expectations in the most delicious ways.

Taste Marieke’s rind-blowing cheeses by ordering from Marieke Gouda here. Or browse our continuously updated list of Wisconsin Cheesemakers that offer online ordering.


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