The general problem of Dutch traditional regional specialty food products is that, although plenty still exist, there are no co-ordinated actions to protect and promote them – neither locally nor nationally. This probably has to do with centuries-old Dutch egalitarianism and Protestantism, on the one hand, and the success until recent years of the ago-industrial system that typically developed from this highly fertile and navigable delta of ‘Low Lands’, on the other.
Until ten years ago, the word ‘streekproduct’ (typical food product) didn’t even exist in Dutch. If there is no language for a phenomenon, it proves very hard to communicate it – to the point that the very existence of these products was denied. Nobody talked about them, nobody wrote about them. We only spoke about French and Italian products, obviously using French and Italian nouns and adjectives.
The Euroterroir inventory revealed that, in proportion to the country’s scale, the Netherlands boasts just as many potential DOC products (+100!) as in France or Italy (by the way, the industrially-made Noord-Hollandse Gouda and Noord-Hollandse Edam are not among them; they got a PDO by ‘accident’!). They are still hidden in the food niches of rural areas and single towns, where local people don’t think of them as special and unique, and when they do, the prevailing feeling is that these remnants of a backward past are doomed to disappear. The number and buying power of the elderly people do not permit their makers to survive, although there is a great deal of nostalgia for old tastes lost.
And now, suddenly, a whole new generation of potential consumers emerges that may learn to value and enjoy them just in time – or maybe not.
Insofar as our political and economic system is inert to the challenges of gastronomic diversity (yet also very sensitive to consumers), initiatives will have to develop from the bottom-up.
In April 2001, I finally managed to start a pilot project on the prospects for the reinforcement of ‘traditionele streekproducten’ in The Netherlands. It involves six meat products and six participating butchers, and we are about to finish our fourth and final session. Local Slow Food members are also getting more involved now. They prevent butchers from seeking easy short-cuts in the production regulation were are now trying to lay down. The butchers are all members of the Het Worstmakers Gilde (Sausage Makers Guild) and focus on craftsmanship anyway.
The fact that the project is carried out by the top business school in The Netherlands (Universiteit Nyenrode) has the effect that not only ‘alternative’ people but also local banks (which host our sessions for free) participate, while people in decision-making positions also take it very seriously.
The six products of the pilot-research are:
Friese Droge Worst (Fryske Droege Woarst, in Friesian)
Friesian dry sausage
70% beef, 30% pork, but sometimes also 100% pork
Friesland is one of the few regions where there has been an initiative before to promote traditional regional products.
Groninger Droge Worst
100 % pork sausage, spiced with cloves
100 % dried beef muscle
(comparable to Bresaola)
100 % beef sausage
Strongly smoked, salty
Dark red-brown outside, red and white inside
Only in Maastricht
Ground veal + pork, aspic-like, but more meat
These products have been picked both because of their high (perceived) potential and because there are enough producers to select pilot participants from. They may become the first ones in The Netherlands to get an Ark-like treatment, if some follow-up can be realized.
More specific to the survival of traditional specialty food products, especially meat products and unpasteurized cheeses, is what Corrado Barberis and Gianfranco Rossetto coined ‘terrorisme sanitaire’. In The Netherlands, EU regulations and directives in this field are rigorously applied, but butchers, bakers and farmhouse cheese-makers are not aware that they have the right to draw up their own collective processing regulation and appeal for exemption.
Further, the politically supported closing of small local slaughterhouses (strangely enough, against all anti-trust laws!) has discouraged a lot of butchers from picking their animals themselves at nearby farms and processing entire carcasses to make delicacies such as Balkenbrij, Preskop, Rolpens, Leverworst and so on. Pork and poultry are completely submitted to the quality classification schemes of the larger slaughterhouses.
The disappearance of small craft food producers over these last years threatens the survival of many regional specialities. Some towns and villages have lost all their butchers and bakers. Only those few who combine craftsmanship and entrepreneurship remain – plus those who have joined national franchise store chains. The latter, alas, exclude all possibilities for traditional craft food.
If we manage to grant ‘traditionele streekproducten’ a prominent place on the menu in a gastronomically underdeveloped and fiercely free-trade-biased country like The Netherlands, that means we can do it anywhere.
Hielke van der Meulen, an agronomist, is senior researcher at the Nyenrode Center for Entrepreneurship of the Netherlands Institute for Cooperative Entrepreneurship