Dutch Magic: Turning Cheese into Energy


What are you going to use your cheese for? Uhm?
Do what with the cheese? Photos Inga Strydom/DR

[dropcap size=small]C[/dropcap]heese is turning out to be a wonderful source of renewable energy and seems set to become all the rage in countries that have progressed far down the clean energy path. The Dutch are quite conspicuously making very little noise about this.

This is rather peculiar when cheese is what they do best. They savour each variety from their famous Edam, Gouda and Graskaas to their commercial Beemster and Old Amsterdam for the individual qualities it embodies best. People are known to make quite the fuss about their jong, versus belegen or oud blends.

So I can imagine that giving the cheese another image is very difficult to do. But instinct tells me that the frosty approach to the ‘energy from cheese’ thing is a touchy subject due to the trademark issues surrounding it. Dutch cheese in and of itself is a trademark name and is also known as Dutch gold. Bear with me for a minute while I make a valid point.

While the brand is worth protecting, the myriad opportunities from creating energy or electricity from cheese could reach exponential proportions if approached correctly. And in any case the energy is not made from the actual cheese but its by-product, whey. So no one is suggesting that the sacred cheese be defiled in any way silly.

Whey is extracted from the curds which the cheese is eventually made from. It’s considered a waste product. For every half a kilo of cheese about four litres of whey is produced.

What better plans can the Dutch possibly have for all this whey anyway, other than turning it into renewable energy? Mmm?


Renewable energy concerns could use a boost

As the matter stands the Dutch are said to be lagging behind other European countries in the renewable energy sector (despite these three innovative initiatives). So if they were to embrace the process of turning cheese waste into energy they would be projecting themselves forward on the energy front as well.

More cheese please!
More cheese please!

I get it, your cheese reputation is borderline sacrosanct and has passed over into legend. Get this, cheese has been produced in the Netherlands since prehistoric times. Archaeologists are said to have found remains of cheese-making implements dating back to 200 B.C. As far back as the Middle Ages Dutch cheese has been shipped abroad and during the Golden Age the Netherlands enjoyed a reputation as a country of cheese.

Take that trademark to the next level

Six hundred and fifty million kilos of cheese is produced annually here in the Netherlands. Yes, you read that correctly, 650 million! Two thirds of it is exported which makes Holland the largest cheese exporter in the world. Picture the volumes of whey being produced with that amount of cheese.

With these numbers it is clear that on cheese production alone the capacity to have a thriving energy sub-sector from this stuff is huge. The French and the Americans are already in on it. Savoy in the French Alps, which is famous for its cheeses too, are giving it a whirl.

Because it’s high in phosphorous and nitrogen, whey is already difficult enough to dispose of safely without contaminating water. If it is used to create energy that largely takes care of that problem. “Netjes opgelost zou ik zeggen.” Just some cheese for thought!




Inga Strydom
I am a South African journalist with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and pushing the envelope on how people relate to the environment. I have seen some hectic things and I have heard my fair share of bizarre accounts. Follow me on Twitter where I go by my Dutch name: https://twitter.com/IngadeJong


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