Say Cheese!

I’m in the Netherlands. Among the old buildings, canals, and amazing diversity of people and cultures, you’ll find cheese. It’s in roadside stores, at farmers’ markets, in bakeries and restaurants and just about anywhere you’d care to look. Most importantly, it’s the best cheese I’ve ever tasted.

On a Saturday stroll in Dam Square, Amsterdam, I ran into Mary, a Danish dairy farmer, selling a variety of homemade cheeses to locals and tourists alike. In her thick accent, she told me of her 150 cows and how they roamed freely in pastures 150km from where we were now standing. She talked of the aging process for her cheeses, and the way they are hand-rotated on a daily basis for the desired number of years until they reached perfection. You could see and hear the love and pride Mary put into her work, and this was reflected in the amazing mustard/pepper Gouda I was now sampling.

One observation particularly stood out, and it arose in a conversation over why Mary didn’t offer milk at her cheese stand as she once did. She said that because farmers are not required to pasteurize their milk as they are in the US, the milk can present a health risk (via listeria, a bacteria) to sensitive individuals, and thus can only travel a limited number of kilometers from where it is produced. Makes sense. But if consumers want to purchase milk directly from any farmer, they can purchase it straight from the farm, and in fact, are encouraged to do so.

In the Netherlands, pasteurization is not required…you foodies out there know that this is a big deal. Consumers get to decide for themselves if they’d personally like to take the ‘risk’ associated with eating/drinking non-pasteurized products. And, the public is encouraged to buy products directly from the farm where it was produced! The last thing any health department in the US would tell you is to purchase fresh, unpasteurized cow milk from your local dairy.

So, we have some work to do. Things that are commonplace in other parts of the world are at times difficult for us as Americans to come by, even when they’re seemingly simple demands – fresh cheese or milk, for example. Luckily, many of us are finding our own unique ways to begin creatively addressing the various flaws in the American ‘food system.’ And best of all, this creativity seems to be spreading one community at a time.

So head on out and support your local ‘Mary’ by buying her product. If that happens to be goat or sheep’s milk on the underground, a growler of home brewed beer via a CSB (community supported brewery), a freshly harvested chicken or turkey from your neighbor, or eggs from a backyard poultry operation, all power to you.

Now, back to this amazing cheese.


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