In an old dairy in the historic Dutch village of Veenhuizen, in the north of the Netherlands, Jan Craens, founder of the family business Kaaslust, makes his traditional artisan Dutch cheeses. At least, that was the case until recently, when his cheese factory did so well that most of the cheeses are now made a little further away, in a more spacious location. "But we are still craftsmen," son André explains. André works alongside his father in the small family business.
"I grew up with making cheese", he says, "so it is not surprising that cheese also became my passion. But my father is the family’s real cheese maker, he is a master cheese maker and has been making cheese since 1975." André’s father Jan is a passionate cheesemaker, for years he studied the history of various cheeses and cheese recipes in Europe. He sought to refine the preparation and ripening of his cheeses and came up with new recipes.
The old dairy factory, which is somewhat hidden behind the building of the old Veenhuizen grain mill, you will find the shop where you can taste and buy all those delicious Kaaslust cheeses. Behind an imposing glass wall, which separates the shop from the cheese warehouse behind it, there are high shelves filled with big Dutch cheeses.
A piece of the history of the village of Veenhuizen is clearly visible in the old white dairy. Veenhuizen has a special history. In 1818, General Johannes van den Bosch founded the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid (Society of Benevolence). He founded colonies in the then remote and desolate Drenthe where poor families from the cities in the west of the Netherlands could build a new existence. Veenhuizen is one of these former colonies of the Maatschappij van Weldadigheid (Colonies of Benevolence) that have now been nominated by UNESCO as world heritage sites.
The colonies arose from a charitable idea, to constructively help the poor. The colonies had to be self-sufficient, so besides farms, there were also places where agricultural products could be processed. Veenhuizen had its own grain mill and spinning mill, for example, and the dairy where Kaaslust is now located. This progressive initiative of General van den Bosch in 1818 is the start of the current social system we know now.
"That history is important for our company, it is part of Kaaslust," says son André Craens. "In 2010, the old factory looked abandoned and neglected. My father worked with the local municipality to ensure that the old grain mill and the old dairy were restored and put back into use, and that is how Kaaslust came started." On top of the facade is the Kaaslust logo, a graphic portrait by Johannes van der Bosch. "We have consciously chosen that logo. The heritage and social idea from which the Koloniën van Weldadigheid (Colonies of Benevolence) originated is important to my father, that is why he chose this logo for his cheese factory."
"We make real Dutch cheese" André tells us, "and organic if possible. Local in any case, our milk comes from farmers in the region, the North of the Netherlands. We make cheese from cow's milk, but also Dutch sheep's and goat's cheese and a combination of those. We have many different types of cheese, but they are all artisanal and Dutch, made from fantastic full, creamy milk".
A beautiful tart of slow cooked and caramelized onions, fresh white cheese mixed with old Dutch cheese and topped with thinly sliced potatoes with more grated old Dutch cheese. Great for lunch with a green salad! And what’s left is fantastic a snack with a glass of beer or wine the next day.
For this recipe I’ve used Kaaslust’s Torba Casa which you easily can replace by a full-fat Dutch Cheese, such as Gouda for example. What you need is cheese that melts easily into the sauce. If you want you can also use Italian Fontina, that also works quite well.
The creamy cheese sauce combines perfectly with chicory and hazelnuts. Gnocchi are easy to make yourself, all you’ll need are some good quality floury potatoes, some flour, an egg and some time, love and care. If you don’t have the time to make them yourself, you can use good quality shop bought or replace the gnocchi for some pasta. It’s an easy adaptable recipe.
Most people think of French cheeses like the famous Roquefort when they think of blue cheese, or maybe a Danish cheese springs to mind. But many countries have their own blue cheese version. Blue cheese is made with cultures of the mold Penicillium, giving it spots or veins of the mold throughout the cheese, which can vary in colour through various shades of blue and green.
For this salad with chicory, pear and walnuts I’ve used a Dutch blue cheese of Kaaslust, which is great, also thrown through some pasta for example. But you can replace the Dutch blue cheese in this recipe for a local blue cheese or Roquefort for example.