That Dutchman's Farm
A unique Dragon's Breath from Upper Economy is becoming known around the world.
The blue cheese named for its pungent aroma is just one of the amazing cheeses made by Willem and Maja van den Hoek, proprietors of That Dutchman's Farm in Colchester County. But it is one that has built a remarkable following.
"Honest, we get people who have tears in their eyes because they've come from out West and they've read about this little cheese (Dragons Breath blue) and they found the place where it's made," says Willem, who, with the help of his website, is attracting customers from around the world. "That's part of tourism now, people look for these places. I figure we get at least 15,000 people a year."
The demand for That Dutchman's cheese, particularly Farmstead Gouda, its speciality and perhaps most traditionally Dutch offering, is something that comes with producing a quality product that consumers know is local. Willem has noticed a trend in appreciation for local products.
"There's been quite a radical change in the last five years," says Willem. "I think people found out that just buying 'stuff' doesn't necessarily bring happiness. So now they're trying food."
The search for quality and uniqueness that comes from the hands of a skilled craftsman, draws visitors from around the world to the van den Hoek's corner of the Bay.
The heart of the Dutchman's sales are the farmers' markets, in Truro and Halifax, where the van den Hoek's interact weekly with regular customers. For years, it was Maja and Willem that awoke early to prepare. It began with bread and baked goods, spread to cheese to the Truro market and then later the Halifax market as well.
"We supply a few stores, Pete's Frootique in Halifax and Bedford, and the Masstown Market," says Willem. "We didn't want to do wholesale, but they really like to have it. People ask for it."
It was Maja's bread that supported the business until the cheesemaking found its footing.
"We wanted to make cheese, but we didn't really have the funds to do that so that's when I started baking," said Maja. "People liked my baking so I started baking for the local bazaar and then for (what was at that time) the Safeway, Ryan's I.G.A. in Truro, and Masstown Market. The baking really carried the cheese for quite a while."
Originally from the Netherlands, the van den Hoek's landed in Montreal in 1970. The young newlyweds first settled in British Columbia and came east in 1975.
After an exhaustive search of Nova Scotia for the right piece of land, the family came upon Lower Economy, where they built their home and business. They eventually moved to a new property in Upper Economy, constructing a new home and business. The centrepiece is a spectacular building similar to traditional farmsteads of northern Netherlands and Germany, amidst a stunning setting.
The unique lifestyle, being open to the world, has grown on the van den Hoek's children. Whether at the weekend farmers' markets, making cheese or working in the farm's café, this is a true family business.
"We have managed to sell our kids on staying here," says Willem proudly. "They're making a living in and around our business. There is potential here."
The public and private sectors of Nova Scotia have united within the Nova Scotia Come to life initiative to share stories that change perceptions of our province. That Dutchmans' Farm is just one example of the many successful food producers living and working in Nova Scotia.