Naked truth


POSTED: Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Experience, vision, principles and gumption — could there be a better recipe for success? Monique van der Stroom has all of these qualities in spades, and she's tapping each to the hilt as she launches her Naked Cow Dairy in Waianae Valley.

Van der Stroom, who studied dairy science in college, spent 12 years running Pacific Dairy “;the next valley over,”; with its 50 acres and some 1,300 cows. When that dairy, the last on Oahu, closed last February, she could only accept the situation for so long.

“;I couldn't imagine this island without a dairy,”; she said.

Naked Cow Dairy will be among local food producers in the Ag-Tastic Expo at the Hawaii State Farm Fair this weekend. Booths from such producers as Nalo Farms, Big Island Abalone, Ho Farms, Hawaii Egg Producers Association and Hawaii coffees will offer samples, information and keiki activities. Also featured at the fair will be a Farmers' Market selling local produce and foods from vendors such as North Shore Cattle Co., Hawaiian Style Chili Co., Da Spot, Grandma G's, Stanley's Chicken and Country Comfort Catering.

Naked Cow is barely up and running, but its existence is significant to a dramatically downsized isle dairy scene: With it, Hawaii is now home to three dairies, with the other two on the Big Island. Twenty years ago, van der Stroom said, Oahu alone had eight dairies.

While the other dairies supply primarily milk to local consumers, Naked Cow is seeking out a niche market by producing cream cheese, flavored butters and gourmet feta, bottled in olive oil with herbs. Eventually, van der Stroom hopes to offer milk in glass bottles that can be refilled.

“;It's risky, but if I stay in the niche market — farmers' markets, health food stores, restaurants, just with people who are willing to pay more for a good product — I should be OK,”; she said. “;I'm the only one in Hawaii making this kind of thing, so it gives me a little bit of an upper hand.”;

Van der Stroom has 17 cows, 10 of them “;growing stock”; too young to produce milk. So she brings in milk from Hawaii's Fresh on the Big Island to produce her products, which she sells at farmers' markets across the island: Haleiwa on Sunday mornings, Blaisdell on Wednesday afternoons, Kailua on Thursdays and Waianae on Saturdays.

And she continues to make strides. In a month or so, Naked Cow products will line the shelves of Down to Earth and Whole Foods. In May, Alan Wong featured her butter and cheese in his locavore dinner.

“;A lot of what we're doing now is feeling out the market, figuring out what can sell,”; she said.

SALES HAVE BEEN “;really good,”; said Sabrina St. Martin, van der Stroom's sister and a vital component of Naked Cow's game plan. She's the one who creates all the recipes for the flavored butters, her skill rooted in her culinary background. She served as chef at the Columns Hotel in New Orleans and specialized in Cajun and Mexican cooking.

Among St. Martin's butter flavorings are garlic and herb, macadamia nut and honey and toasted coconut. Plus, she offers a specialty of the month, like the recent apple cinnamon. St. Martin tries out new ideas by taking a few containers to market for customer response.

“;I like to be creative with local stuff. ... . I want to use all local products,”; she said.

St. Martin was introduced to the dairy biz two years ago, when she came to Hawaii to help her sister close Pacific Dairy.

“;Monique told me her dream of opening her own dairy and asked me if I wanted to help,”; she recalled. “;I had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, and my kids are all grown, so I told her it sounded like fun.”;

The sisters tag-team on daily duties. In the morning, St. Martin helps van der Stroom feed and milk the cows. In the afternoon, van der Stroom assists in the kitchen. They work two days prior to each market day and produce 10 to 15 pounds of feta and 60 pounds of butter weekly.

Five ounces of the cheese, bottled in four to five ounces of olive oil and seasoned with garlic and herbs, sells for $10, while six ounces of plain feta goes for $8. Flavored butters are sold in half-pound packages for $6.

VAN DER STROOM is leasing 13 acres of land and has spent her life savings to purchase the numerous and costly equipment she needs to run the dairy. That includes corrals and fencing, a barn, a milking parlor and a processing facility. And while she has just four milking cows now, she needs 50 to be at full production.

“;It's quite an investment and I'm struggling with it,”; she admitted.

Her limited means stand in stark contrast to the bold vision of her long-term goals, which include running a goat dairy and expanding her product line to include cheeses such as gouda, cheddar and Swiss, as well as the bottled milk.

Beyond that: “;In the future, with 300 or 500 cows, I'd like to, along with the other local dairies, be able to provide at least 20 percent of the state's milk,”; she said.

She also has plans to recycle “;as much as I can.”; She'll use barn water to irrigate and generate power with a methane digester, which creates energy from manure.

“;Sustainability is what everyone's talking about. We already import most of our food (in Hawaii), and this would eliminate some of that. ... Plus, it's a fresher product,”; she said. “;Some people don't understand the importance of locally produced food, but if more and more people buy local products, there will be more jobs. Then, eventually, it will sustain itself.”;

In the meantime, van der Stroom and St. Martin find fulfillment in their rural lifestyle.

“;I never thought that at 50 years old I'd be milking a cow on a farm in Hawaii,”; St. Martin said, laughing. “;I like it a lot.”;

“;I can't imagine not living on a farm,”; said van der Stroom. “;I just love my animals — my cows and goats and horse and chickens and duck and pigs — and they're right outside my door.

“;Farming is 24/7. It's not really a job. It's just how you live.”;



Courtesy Sabrina St. Martin

2 bunches spinach or kale

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 package philo dough

1/4 pound of feta cheese

1 medium tomato, sliced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Saute spinach or kale in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and set aside.

Saute onion and garlic in remaining olive oil. When translucent, add greens back in and saute briefly.

In mixing bowl, toss mixture with feta and squeeze of lemon.

Brush bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan with olive oil and evenly lay out vegetable mixture. Top with philo dough, brush with olive oil and add another layer of greens. Continue to stack 4 layers.

Top with sliced tomatoes and bake until golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes. Serves 4.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 540 calories, 20 g total fat, 7 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 1000 mg sodium, 73 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 18 g protein







        At the Hawaii State Farm Fair

» Place: Bishop Museum


» Time: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday


» Admission: $5, $3 children


» Info: www.hfbf.org