Corne and Conny van Bedaf’s ambition couldn’t fit in the Netherlands. The Dutch couple wanted a larger dairy farm, but so small and densely packed a country offers little real estate for cattle. You cannot let Holsteins graze on the canals of Amsterdam, after all. They would block boat traffic.
Thus the van Bedafs moved their family to Alberta, where the population density is about 80 times lower than that of the Netherlands. And when their children grew old enough to join the farmwork, the van Bedafs made the ultimate upgrade in living arrangements by moving to North Dakota. In Carrington they now have 1,500 head which produce milk for Cass-Clay Creamery.
That is, to say, if the van Bedafs’ daughter Maartje Murphy doesn’t turn it into something far tastier first. A North Dakotan since the age of 13, she had originally planned to work as a nurse at Sanford Medical Center until the lowing of cattle guided her to destiny. Running Duchessa Gelato leaves Maartje no time to take anyone’s vitals.
“I was sad when the time came to say goodbye to my nursing job,” said Maartje, “but my gelato business was taking off, and making sweet treats filled my heart just a little bit more. It’s just a different way of taking care of people!
“Gelato originated in Italy, but if you travel around Europe you’re going to find it everywhere. It uses half the butterfat of ice cream, and it’s churned warmer and slower to make it far more dense. Don’t get me wrong – I do love ice cream, and everything else that’s made with dairy, too – but nothing tastes better than smooth, creamy gelato.
“My parents always say if you take care of the cows, they’ll take care of you. The cattle of VanBedaf Dairy spend their days grazing outside, or in their temperature controlled barn when it’s too hot or cold out for them. They always return to fresh bedding whenever they have been milked. And thanks to the little trackers they wear in their ears, my dad always knows when one of our cows isn’t moving as much as she usually does or is running a temperature.
“I originally wanted to make gelato as a way of honoring my brothers’ and parents’ passion for producing high-quality milk. Before starting out I met with a lot of entrepreneurs back in the Netherlands, who taught me how to make gelato the traditional way. The Italian hot process method is simple: Bring fresh, raw milk into the creamery, heat it up in a vat, add sugar and cream and then let it cool overnight.
“Aging its base gives gelato the perfect consistency. At that point the only thing missing is the flavor. I import the ingredients from Italy when I make traditional flavors like pistachio and hazelnut, and my chocolate comes straight from Belgium. For everything else, I try to keep my ingredients as local as possible. A gelato maker couldn’t ask for better berries and honey than North Dakota’s, and Carrington is blessed with plenty of rhubarb. That’s not a traditional gelato flavor by any means – I don’t think my grandma back in the Netherlands could even tell you what rhubarb is!
“I make regular rounds around North Dakota to deliver pints of my gelato. I also fill up my cart’s pozzetti (a traditional Italian gelato tub) to serve it at farmer’s markets and any catered event I’m welcomed to. That’s the most fulfilling feeling: seeing the smile spread across someone’s face when they try Duchessa Gelato for the first time. They’re enjoying the freshness of a locally made treat and appreciating all the hard work that goes into our family farm.”
Maartje and her husband Casey have also just produced their inaugural batch of gouda. You can visit VanBedaf Dairy this summer to eat cheese plates and gelato and admire the world’s most pampered cows. If you prefer to live a life in which gelato comes to you, then you can find Maartje manning her pozzetti during her frequent visits to Thunder Coffee in Fargo.
To see when Duchessa Gelato is next coming to town or to engage Maartje’s services for catering, please visit duchessagelato.com.
By David Scheller