A Bucolic Legacy

Charuth van Beuzekom and Kevin Loth have been diligent stewards of the land for nearly 25 years, raising crops and feisty goats on 34 fertile acres near Lincoln, Nebraska. On a brisk autumn day while touring the farm operation, I inquired about plans for commemorating a quarter-century of work. The couple expressed surprise, wholly unaware of the coming anniversary. Time passes quickly while you are raising three children on a working farm, knee-deep in dirt, cheese, and the minutiae involved in building an ethical small business that inspires new perspectives.

The couple met at University of California, Santa Cruz, where Van Beuzekom was studying biology and Loth was focusing on environmental studies. After their first child arrived, they headed back to Loth’s home state of Nebraska, starting Shadow Brook Farms in 1995.  Within two years they were introducing Midwestern palates to coastal flavors in both Lincoln and Omaha, selling bag after bag of mesclun greens to customers lined up 75-deep before the booth opened. Visionaries and proponents of a regional food system, they collaborated in 2005 with local food producer Jim Caruso to start a Sunday market, still going strong today as the Sunday Market at College View in Lincoln.

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an Beuzekom was born in Rosas, Spain, and spent her early childhood in Holland and formative years in California. It was there that she discovered a love for cheesemaking, tending her own goat and using the milk to create fresh, homemade cheeses. This passion never faded, so Shadow Brook Farm acquired a small goat herd in 2006 and Dutch Girl Creamery was born.  In collaboration with Krista Dittman, another local cheesemaker, Van Beuzekom used grants to fund production, education, and further research into European-style artisan cheese production at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and dairies in both Italy and Spain. The business was a success, and a production facility was raised on the farm property in 2013.

Most goats in the herd are direct descendants of the original two: Stella and Luna (named for the popular children’s book Stellaluna, featuring an adorable little fruit bat). All breeding is done on-site, with additional bucks procured from nearby producers as needed (the couple cleverly names the bucks—Elvis, Debonnaire, and Guapo). The mothers gestate over the winter and babies are born in late winter/very early spring. They are bottle fed, and the farm welcomes visitors to help every spring. The mischievous herd enjoys rotational grazing on the 13 acres of alfalfa, and all feed is locally and sustainably produced. Completing the sustainability circle, compost goes right back into the fields.

Cheese, like wine, is an expression of terroir in that the animal breeds are nourished by food grown in the local soil, affecting flavor in myriad ways. The unique milk from the herd is the base for the careful blend of science and creativity needed to craft incredible artisan cheese.

Our tour of the USDA-compliant creamery started with wheels of Gouda laid out on a table, designed specifically for the holiday season with chive and pink peppercorn representing traditional green and red colors. The walk-in cooler held buckets of the tart Calypso, an aged feta-style chevre nestled in a briny pool, perfect for salads and mezze platters or sneaky fridge snacking. Natalie in Gray, named after her oldest son Graydon, a blue cheese covered in ash, is delightful on a cheese board or as part of a decadent grilled cheese. A Camembert-style goat cheese named Manon awaits its time to shine next to large containers of the best-selling Chevre Frais, a soft, lemony, fresh goat cheese.

Next, we got a peek inside the “cave”, a temperature-controlled room designed to mimic traditional caves in which cheeses were aged in Europe. On wooden boards rests the award-winning Rosa Maria, a Spanish-style cheese. Named after van Beuzekom, whose middle name is Maria, this cheese is aged between four and 12 months, soft and mild when young, increasing in complexity and sharpness with age. Popular with local chefs, it jazzes up dishes with zingy umami flavor.

Dolle Mina, finalist for a 2020 Good Food Award, has a compelling naming story. The Dutch-style Gouda is named after Van Beuzekom’s mother, whose photo appears when the term is entered into a Google search. The translation of dolle mina is “crazy woman,” a moniker given in the 70s in Utrecht to activist radicals.

Loth and Van Beuzekom have been unfailingly forthcoming with knowledge, helping those who came after them. “We wanted to raise the bar and grow our competition—we never kept secrets,” remarked Loth. This willingness to help proved instrumental in diversifying growers and spreading market customers among stands. Passing along these skills and inspiring the next generation is essential to maintaining the ability to eat local. 

In 2019, Ian Richmond, another local farmer, took over the vegetable plots and market stands, and moving forward, they would also like to pass along more of the existing knowledge and structure, creating fresh opportunities for younger, more exuberant farmers. Van Beuzekom is exploring the possibility of purchasing milk from other dairies, which would enable her to focus on cheese making rather than goat raising and allow expansion of the cheese operation to the off season.

As we all do, the couple is moving to another phase of life, taking a step back to slow down and feed their passions, including crafting artisan cheese that mirrors the farm itself: complex, hearty, nuanced, and full of character.

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