Duo go Dutch as Brexit blocks the cheeses they love
Cheese lovers Carol and Olav Kloster decided to start making their own Dutch favourites when Brexit bureaucracy made it difficult to import directly from producers in Holland.
The enterprising husband and wife team subsequently set up Carrickfergus Cheese Company to handcraft traditional Gouda and Edam cheeses from Olav’s homeland themselves.
“We were shocked when cheesemakers we had dealt with for years in northern Holland told us they couldn’t continue to supply us because of the onerous paperwork from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU at the start of the year,” Carol explains. “Several told us that supplying directly to customers in NI had become much too complicated.
“They were suppliers of fresh gouda and edam that Olav knew from near his family home in Holland. Their decision came as a complete surprise and knocked us right back on our heels. We never expected Brexit hitches to reach down to us in Carrickfergus. I’ve since discovered that a number of local delicatessens have also found it more difficult to source European cheeses directly from producers.”
The setback led the couple, neither of whom has a background in food production, to start researching how best to craft the sort of Dutch cheeses they both enjoy.
“We share a passion for both gouda and edam cheeses. We love their distinctive flavours and rich texture,” continues Carol.
They began their journey in cheese making in February, which Carol, who has a background in administration including a lengthy career in the NHS, admits was “quite and learning curve”.
Originally from Carryduff, Carol met Olav in 1999 here and they were married in 2003. They then settled down just outside Carrickfergus.
Olav, who works in management in Belfast, grew up close to some of Holland’s best known makers of gouda and edam and was able to tap into their vast knowledge and experience. Carol, who has a knowledge of Dutch, is quick to acknowledge the support and guidance provided by the experts. She also turned to publications and the internet, especially You Tube, for as much information she could garner about the historic cheeses, both of which have a high fat content.
Carol’s first task was to find a local dairy farm for the fresh milk she needed. She found a ready supplier of premium milk in Baird’s dairy farm just outside Carrickfergus.
“Baird’s has been immensely supportive and encouraging,” she says. “The farm’s milk from its grass-fed herd is excellent, rich and creamy. Climate conditions for dairying in northern Holland, especially around the town of Edam, are not unlike the Carrickfergus area.”
Baird’s is among a small group of local farms pasteurising and delivering milk in eco-friendly glass bottles to customers in the surrounding area.
“The quality of the milk is crucial,” Carol continues. “Gouda is made with whole milk, and has a rich, buttery, slightly sweet flavour and smooth, creamy texture. Edam is a semi-hard cheese originating in the town of Edam in the province of North Holland. Unlike gouda, edam is made with part-skim milk. Both are washed cheeses and made without additives or preservatives before a period or maturation for enhancing the flavours.”
Feedback from family and friends who taste-tested the new cheeses has been “extremely positive and encouraging”, according to Carol. In addition, the cheeses have recently been included in the menu of a leading local premium restaurant, the Lighthouse in Whitehead. Erica Lutzman, who runs the restaurant with Finnish-born chef Joni, her husband, says the cheeses are already attracting “very favourable responses” from diners. Local delis have also been lining up to experience the Dutch cheese from Carrickfergus.
The positive feedback has encouraged Carol and Olav to develop the new cheeses with herbs and spices for added flavours. These have included cumin, toasted sesame seeds, pepper and chilli. She’s also working on a variety with dulse flakes and another with dark ale and mustard!
Craft entrepreneurs Carol and Olav have now added classic Dutch cheeses to the growing cadre of artisan cheesemakers across Northern Ireland offering a wide variety of handcrafted products. Among the best known are Mike Thomson of Mike’s Fancy Cheese in Newtownards, a developer of the multi-award-winning Young Buck blue; Julie Hickey of Dart Mountain in Claudy, an American crafting a variety of products including blues, goat’s and a Swiss-style Emmental; Ballylisk of Armagh, the farm-based producer of Triple and Single Rose bries; and Castlereagh’s Kearney Blue.
Several of the artisan cheeses are now being exported throughout Europe, into the Middle East and as far away as Asia. Carol and Olav Kloster could, in time, see their cheeses enjoyed in the Netherlands.
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