Marieke Penterman said she never takes for granted all the accolades and awards she has won for her gouda cheese.
Penterman, who operates Marieka Gouda in Thorp, claimed both first and second runner-up positions in the 2019 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest recently in Green Bay. She won the 2013 competition, but also was runner up in 2011, 2017 and 2018.
“It’s like winning the jackpot,” Penterman said Friday. “But this is so much more. It’s great recognition, from specialists in the industry.”
Penterman said she is always surprised when she wins.
“Every year, there are more competitors, and the competition gets tougher,” she said. “I have an amazing respect for the judges.”
A record-setting 2,555 cheese entries from 35 states were evaluated during the two-day competition at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, according to a Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association press release. A team of 60 nationally-renowned judges hailing from 20 states considered each entry’s flavor, body and texture, salt, color, finish, and appearance, scoring entries on a 100-point scale.
Marieke Gouda was featured on CBS Sunday Morning two weeks ago, and Penterman said it had an immediate impact on her business.
“Within 48 hours, we had more online orders than all of 2018,” she said. “We had orders from across the United States. It was just unbelievable.”
Penterman said business has been strong, with between 150,000 and 160,000 visitors annually to her cheese-making facility on the south side of Thorp. She said those visitors lead to about 35 percent of her sales in the shop.
Penterman makes about two dozen different varieties of gouda.“We only make gouda, and a little bit of cheese curds,” she said. “They are all raw milk cheeses, and they are all straight from the cows. Within five hours of coming from the cow, it’s made into cheese.”
In the plant’s aging room, all cheeses are stored for at least 60 days, in a cool environment between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
On any given day, there are 4,000 wheels of cheese, each weighing about 20 pounds. Penterman said they all must be flipped at least once each week. A wheel of cheese would sell for between $150 and $200, depending on its actual weight, age and flavor, she said.
The ribbons for all the contests hang in the shop for customers to see.
Marieke and her husband, Rolf, are natives of the Netherlands and grew up on farms there. She operated the gouda store as Holland Family Cheese on a farm southeast of Thorp for six years before she moved to their current location in 2013, wanting the visibility along Highway 29.
Thorp officials gave them a conditional use permit to have up to 435 cows on their 100-acre parcel in city limits, although it’s not in a residential area.