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Cows and Co. Creamery stays true to its dairy roots and offers customers a taste of the Netherlands

After making the move from the Netherlands, Maartje Murphy wanted to give North Dakotans a chance to enjoy European treats, made right on the farm.

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Maartje Murphy cuts a wheel of gouda cheese, which she says is a traditional dutch style cheese. Photo taken August 30, 2022 in Carrington, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek
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CARRINGTON, N.D. — Taking a turn down an old gravel road, the scenery looks much like rural North Dakota. That is, until your eyes are greeted by a luminous white barn and quaint cottage sitting right in front of it, surrounded by a sea of flowers.

The scene looks like something taken out of a dream and for years that’s all it was. A dream.

Maartje Murphy's family, including parents Conny and Corné van Bedaf, already had lived the American dream as immigrants who have built a successful dairy. But Murphy's dream was to take the fruits of the dairy a step farther, in a way befitting their European roots.

“We travel back often to visit family and there's lots of gelato, ice cream shops and farmstead cheese makers in Europe. I remember sitting on a patio and thinking this would be so fun to bring back to North Dakota. So it was kind of a dream," she said. “But the dream kept alive, and we have milk — which is the main ingredient of gelato — right at our fingertips.”

Murphy's Cows and Co. Creamery offers a taste of Europe to those who make the trek to Carrington, North Dakota, and has gained her national notoriety.

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Wandering roots

When Murphy was just 7 years old, her family left their home country of the Netherlands behind. The van Bedafs moved to Canada in an effort to expand upon their heritage and deep seeded passion — being dairy farmers.

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Conny van Bedaf says she always had cheese making in the back of her mind, just like her daughter. But she never imagined she would be able to pursue it as a business. Photo taken Aug. 30, 2022 in Carrington, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

Murphy’s mother, Conny van Bedaf, grew up on a dairy farm and enjoyed her time in the dairy barn. When it came time to go to college, it was an easy decision for van Bedaf to go into agriculture. She went to university and studied food science, with a focus in dairy science. After graduating, van Bedaf and her husband, Corné van Bedaf, bought his parents' dairy farm and started milking cows.

“But then we relocated because we saw that Europe was going to be difficult with all the regulations,” Conny van Bedaf said.

After spending eight years in Alberta, Canada, running their own dairy operation, the van Bedafs made one more move to Carrington, North Dakota, to make a final expansion to their dairy.

“We thought, our first move went great, let’s do it another time and go bigger,” van Bedaf said.

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Maartje Murphy, Casey Murphy and Conny van Bedaf stand in front of their on-farm cafe. Photo taken Aug. 30, 2022 in Carrington, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

Taste of the Netherlands

Murphy always thought about becoming a cheesemaker but never knew if it was a possibility. After spending some time as a nurse, she decided to pursue her dream and offer rural America a taste of authentic European gelato and cheese.

Murphy and her mother attended a gelato university in Italy. The educational seminar was a week long and the two fell in love with making gelato — so much so that when they returned back to the farm, they turned half of their garage into a gelato processing facility. The pair started small, catering weddings and business events.

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About two years ago, Murphy and her husband, Casey Murphy, bought a farmstead in Carrington and turned it into Cows and Co. Creamery. With the purchase of the farmstead and the expansion of their business, Maartje Murphy thought it was time to implement cheese into their creamery as well. They made their first Gouda cheese in April 2021, and while Murphy says there has been some trial and error in the learning curve, the cafe is now lined with golden orbs of Gouda, stacked onto pine shelves. They also offer a Midwestern favorite, fresh cheddar cheese curds.

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According to Murphy, there was a lot of trial and error when figuring out how to make the perfect Gouda cheese. Photo taken Aug. 30, 2022 in Carringotn, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

Murphy said she has family and friends in the Netherlands who have acted as mentors in the cheese making process. In addition, her mother traveled to New Zealand when she was Murphy's age to have her hand at cheese making. Murphy also spent a month in the Netherlands prior to COVID to learn how to make Gouda.

Cows and Co. Creamery offers a charming cafe for customers to enjoy their tasty treats. While this may seem out of the ordinary for North Dakota creameries, Murphy says it's common in Europe.

“Our main goal is for people to come to Cows and Co. and feel like they are in the Netherlands or in a country in Europe, and sit on our patio and enjoy farm fresh products,” she said. “We want to bring that to the people of North Dakota.”

The artisan gelato made and sold at the creamery, Duchessa Gelato, has garnered national attention since Murphy created it in 2018 and earned her a coveted spot on Forbes 30 under 30 list.

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Duchessa Gelato has gained national attention and even helped land Maartje Murphy on the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Photo taken Aug. 30, 2022, in Carrington, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

“It was quite the honor and it was really cool to see an ag related business on the list,” Murphy said.

Liquid Gold

According to Murphy, her parents, brothers and husband’s diligent eyes for detail is what make her products stand out among competitors. Their dairy farm houses 1,500 cows and keeps all their heifer replacements on location, a vast difference from their herd of 50 cows when they farmed in the Netherlands.

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The VanBedaf dairy encompasses 1,500 cattle. Photo taken Aug. 30, 2022, in Carrington, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

“It's really cool to see the milk from our farm turn into something as great as Gouda cheese,” Murphy said.

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Conny van Bedaf’s education has helped tremendously on the dairy side of their operation, as she knows how important proper herd management is and how it can impact the product or milk quality.

“They have a knack for quality and detail, so they do a really good job with their herd management,” Casey Murphy said.

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Casey Murphy waits to flip cheese in the on-farm Cows and Co. Creamery. Photo taken Aug. 30, 2022, in Carrington, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

Their dairy has won awards based on their milk's quality, something that they take great pride in. The milk that is not used for their products is sent to Cass-Clay Creamery, based in Fargo.

“The quality of our milk was the No. 1 priority at our farm. It’s been like that from the day we got married and bought his parents farm: We knew that was our main thing. We wanted to produce quality milk. And we did,” van Bedaf said.

While it is a time consuming venture, seeing the customers enjoy authentic European treats right in rural North Dakota makes it all worth it.

“We like to share our slice of heaven with them,” Casey Murphy said.

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The van Bedaf and Murphy family prides themselves on producing quality milk to put into their products at Cows and Co. Creamery. Photo taken Aug. 30, 2022, in Carrington, North Dakota.
Emily Beal / Agweek

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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