The Big Cheese Comes to the Big Apple

Holland's Beemster Didn't Look Like Much in Grand Central, but It Sure Was Tasty

By Published on .

Event: "World's Largest Cheese Is Coming to Grand Central"
Date: May 16, 2007
Marketer: Beemster Premium Gourmet Dutch Cheese
Venue: Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central Terminal

Photo: Hoag Levins
Madeleen Driessen, the official Dutch Cheese Girl, sits atop Beemster's giant cheese wheel.
Click to see larger image

Scurrying through the crowds of commuters and tourists, I was on the hunt for the largest wheel of cheese in the world. Considering it was vetted by Guinness World Records, I thought this would bring a new definition to the phrase "big cheese."

Little did I know as I walked into Vanderbilt Hall in Grand Central that 1,323 pounds of cured curds and whey would be only 6 feet in diameter.

I didn't know how to react to the cheese. Instead of fawning at the size, I worried about how it would keep its solid form against the heat coming from the numerous spotlights above it. Luckily, there was security on hand to make sure the cheese was safe.

Although the cheese did get passers-by to whip out their camera phones for a quick snapshot, it was really the free samples served by girls in not-so-traditional Dutch garb that drew the people in. The girls -- wearing cropped, off-the-shoulder tops that showed off a matching white- and red-trimmed bra and knee-length blue skirts -- served up pieces of "XO" and "Matured" cheese decorated with mini company pennants on a Beemster platter.

The cheese disappeared pretty quickly, as many in the crowd came back for seconds and thirds.

But it wasn't the large crowd one would expect. Michael Blum, sales and marketing manager for the company, co-owned by 600 Dutch farmers, said he was pleased with the response; however, in the company's home country, the reaction to the large cheese was much different.

"In Holland, I think it spun out a little better ... because the people understand by themselves," Mr. Blum said. "The PR event was sort of to show the people and other companies how skilled Beemster is."

Holland native and Beemster general manager Eric Hulst kicked off the event with a quick explanation of the company's history and how the cheese is made. But because of an award ceremony held by the New York Police Department on the other side of the hall, his words were mixed with rounds of applause from that event, which Mr. Hulst accepted graciously with a chuckle.

"Beemster cheese is a dangerous cheese. When you've had it a few times, you get addicted to it," Mr. Haulst said.

He also introduced the "queen of cheese making," Madeleen Driessen, who has been the official Dutch Cheese Girl for seven years. Her presence sparked camera flashes throughout the room. Suddenly, the event turned into a mini photo shoot featuring Ms. Driessen and the cheese. Belgian chef Klaas Claes took the stage soon after and prepared six dishes using the cheese for all to sample.

Even though I got to taste only the potatoes au gratin with Stella beer, Beemster cheese and onions, my taste buds walked away happy.

So why did Beemster resort to displaying its dairy name to the world in Grand Central instead of on a typical print ad or billboard?

"Beemster lives to be different," Mr. Blum said. "Beemster is a luxury item, and we wanted to do something fun."

And with a large round of it sitting in Grand Central, mission accomplished.

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