Couple’s passion for cheese results in awards

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THORP, Wis. (AP) - The rise of Holland’s Family Cheese is an old-fashioned love story.

It’s the story of a Dutch couple’s love of dairy farming, each other and, of course, cheese.

Dutch-style Gouda cheese, in particular.

Marieke and Rolf Penterman, co-owners of Holland’s Family Cheese in Thorp, have taken the cheese world by storm since entering the business seven years ago.

In that relatively short time, their passion for cheese has helped them collect an almost unprecedented number of awards in national and global cheesemaking competitions, highlighted by winning the overall top prize in the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest last year and taking fifth in the World Championship Cheese Contest in March in Madison.

“I think we have a great team, and we all work together and try to accomplish a great piece of cheese,” Marieke, 37, said in the distinct Dutch accent that she and her husband retain.

The acclaim helped boost the creamery’s nationwide sales by 48 percent last year.

But winning piles of prizes and selling tons of cheese aren’t enough for the Pentermans, who want to share their love of dairying and cheesemaking with the world. To that end, they are in the final stages of an ambitious project to make Holland’s Family Cheese a major tourist attraction.

The couple, who previously operated a small dairy farm and creamery a few miles out of town, recently opened a new 100-acre facility within the Thorp city limits that includes dairy, cheesemaking and retail operations. The rare setup means all of the major functions, from milking cows to making cheese, can be viewed by visitors independently or through guided tours.

The easily accessible facility, which still needs landscaping and a few other finishing touches (such as hanging the awards piled high on a table in the store) is located right next to the Thorp exit off Highway 29.

“I think it’s a perfect location to draw in a lot of people,” said Rolf, 41.

The store sells cheese made on site and by other Wisconsin dairies as well as ice cream, wine, chocolates, souvenirs and a variety of Dutch gifts and food items.

Eventually, the Pentermans, who have five children between 4 and 10, plan to open a kitchen area to make grilled Gouda sandwiches and possibly try their hand at making ice cream and yogurt.

An influx of visitors to the company, drawn by the notoriety that comes with winning more than 100 awards in seven years, could be a boon for other local businesses as well, said city administrator Randy Reeg.

“We’re pretty excited about what we think it might bring,” Reeg told the Leader-Telegram (http://bit.ly/1i6NWCm). “They got quite a bit of traffic when they were off the beaten path outside of the city. Now that they’re right in town, we think it could bring lots of new traffic to the city that otherwise didn’t stop.”

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