Texel Sheep Cheese Netherlands
The flat green island of Texel is surrounded by the endless vista of the steel grey North Sea. The wind that sweeps over the island is so strong and constant that the roofs of the island's barns are sloped on one side to reduce resistance-they look as if they are kneeling into the gale. The island of Texel has given its name to a famous sheep breed, which, with its broad shoulders, thick neck and short legs, is also built in a way that suggests sturdy resistance to the elements.
Texel sheep are among the most common in the world, and breeders are spread across the United Kingdom, Denmark, the United States, Brazil, Ireland, and even Italy. Before 1850, however, there was a different type of Texel sheep, raised not for meat, but for milk. This breed was slowly selected for meat production as the island began to produce lamb and mutton for export to the United Kingdom. As a result, the island's traditional production of Texel cheese, known as Texelse Schapenkaas, slowed to a halt. Texel's cheese had been known throughout Europe, and in 1567 the Italian traveler Ludovico Guicciardini wrote that the islanders of Texel ‘make cheeses... of a particularly delicate taste, which no other cheese, not even the Parmesan, can be compared with.'
After the Second World War, the production of Texel was drastically reduced and with it the artisan cheese with at least five centuries of history disappeared. In the early eighties, one farming family revitalized the island's tradition. Piet and Hanna Bakker relaunched production with the help of an aunt's recollections of how the cheese was once made. One problem the Bakkers faced was the local sheep breed: Texel sheep had been selected for meat production for a century and a half, and no longer yielded much milk. The Bakkers crossed their sheep with Fresian milk sheep again and made a selection of good milking ewes: after a decade they came up with a Texel-Fresian (called Texelaar-Friesian) cross that was a good milk producer.
For the cheese production which only takes place from mid May to the end of September when the pastures provide green grass the raw milk is warmed up to a max of 35° C. Characteristic for Texel cheese is a drier consistency due to the fact that as much whey as possible is taken away from the curd.
The fresh cheeses weigh between five and six kilos and are aged a minimum of six months. The cheese is rustic and has a lingering elemental flavor that tastes of animal musk and the sea. The cheese's deep yellow color is evidence of Texel's rich and abundant pasture.
Until recently, the Bakkers were the only farmers who produced Texel Sheep Cheese with the traditional recipe. After contact with Slow Food, a second producer, Anton Witte, decided to return to raw milk cheese production and joined the new Presidium. The two producers make cheese with natural rennet and raw milk, preferably from Texelaar-Friesian sheep. The goal of the Presidium is to help Texelse Schapenkaas regain its reputation for quality and to encourage additional farmers to adopt the quality standards of the Presidium. With sheep milk cheese complementing the poor incomes from lamb production, many endangered farms can be saved and can then reinforce the island's rural economy. Sheep are part of the typical Texel landscape’s hedged pastures and play an important role in preserving the island's ecosystem by grazing the salt-resistant vegetation of Texel's loamy peat meadows.
Texel Island, North of The Netherlands
Schapenbedrijf De Waddel/ Fam. Bakker/
1791 LJ Den Burg (Texel)
Tel. +31 222 322337/312830
Kaasboerderij Wezenspyk/ Fam. Witte
1791 PM Den Burg (Texel)
tel. +31 222 315090
Annette van Ruitenburg