Groendal: the taste of imagination
When he was younger, Johan Deweer decided he would never take over his parents’ farm, which is located in West Flanders. Today, he and his wife Dominique Steyaert have transformed this family heritage into a renowned cheese farm, which goes by the name of Groendal.
Rumbeke, which lies south of the city of Roeselare (West Flanders), is certainly a green area. The beautiful Sterrebos park is just a stone’s throw away, and fields and meadows are dotted all over town. You cannot help but admire the idyllic surroundings here. Everywhere you turn, hundreds of sweet black-and-white cows are scattered across the landscape, grazing peacefully. They provide the milk with which the delicious Groendal cheeses are made, of which approximately twenty different varieties exist.
A love for the job
For many generations, the property had been a traditional farm, but Johan Deweer decided that this wasn’t the life for him. Instead, the young man decided to immerse himself in the industrial world in Vilvoorde. Eventually, his heart led him back to the family farm…but he decided to change direction. “It was after taking a practical training course on livestock in the Netherlands that I came up with the idea to produce farmhouse cheese,” he recalls. “It soon became a passion and I started training in the production of dairy. I also gained experience while working with various cheese makers in Zeeland and Normandy.” In 1987, Johan and Dominique were ready to launch their business, but things didn’t quite go according to plan… After only two years, their cattle was struck by a serious infection and had to be put down. “All of our cheeses made with raw milk also went to waste,” Johan explains, “which is when we decided to only use pasteurised milk for our cheese.”
A passion for creation
Today, all these worries have been left behind, and the cheese farm is growing rapidly. “We’re a firm fixture in the market for artisan cheeses,” Johan explains. “Our two most renowned cheeses are without a doubt Pater Lievens and Brokkeloud Roeselare, but we’re trying to expand our range as much as possible.” To this end, the young artisan, passionate about experimenting, regularly develops new cheeses: Groendal with nettle, with Italian herbs, with nuts… His various discoveries have even earned him a couple of prizes! Last year, he won a bronze medal at the World Cheese Awards for his “Poperinge Keikop”, the very first cheese based on hop shoots. In honour of the First World War centenary, he created the “Poppycheese”, which contains blue poppy seeds, for which he has also won a prize.
Popularity vs exclusivity
While Johan is certainly proud of his discoveries, he is just as proud of his craftsmanship. Nothing is left to chance: from the choice of milk cows (Holstein cows, sometimes crossbred with Brown Swiss cows), to their feed and the choice to produce naturally (no additives)… All of these decisions have been carefully thought through. The company also produces a couple of famous cheeses that are not available for wide distribution.
Take Brokkeloud Roeselare, for example: a hard cheese ripened over 18 months, which pairs perfectly with a glass of Leffe Blond. “Brokkeloud Roeselare is only available in specialised cheese shops,” Johan explains. “There are also a couple of restaurants that have it on their menu. We want this to be an exclusive cheese. It’s important to us to continue producing certain cheeses for large-scale distribution, and others for a more selective network.”