Story by David Choo
Photo by Elyse Butler
In February 2008 O‘ahu’s only dairy, Pacific Dairy, closed. Monique van der Stroom had managed operations at the fifty-acre, 1,400-cow facility in Wai‘anae for twelve years, and the prospect of doing anything but raising and milking cows was unthinkable. So in what she calls a “do-or-die” move, she and thirty-five of Pacific’s cows relocated to a twelve-acre fallow farm nearby. Van der Stroom knew that her dairy couldn’t compete with Mainland milk producers and that she would have to branch out into products like butter, cheese and yogurt. She got on the phone and convinced her sister Sabrina St. Martin, a one-time chef in New Orleans, to relocate to Hawai‘i and help her.
Today the two sisters—along with a niece and two friends—produce approximately 140 pounds of butter a week, along with varying amounts of cream cheese and yogurt, at their Naked Cow Dairy. The dairy’s cows are raised without antibiotics and growth hormones, and its products have earned their name: They truly are naked, free of preservatives and artificial flavorings. Naked Cow’s butter comes in flavors like garlic herb, macadamia nut and honey, and coconut and pesto; because it’s made from the milk of grass-fed cows, it’s higher in beta-carotene, which gives it a slightly orange hue and a sweeter flavor. Naked Cow also “washes” its butter—rinses off the buttermilk after churning—only once, making it softer and fuller than most store-bought butters.
Van der Stroom is happy. Before, she says, “I could have gone into business myself, but everyone would advise me that it wasn’t the right time, and I would back down. It was always, ‘someday, someday, someday.’” Now that someday is here, van der Stroom is actively planning the future, ordering cheese-making equipment from Holland and prepping milk-bottling facilities. For the time being, Naked Cow’s products can be found at farmers markets and select natural foods stores around O‘ahu, but when the sisters get their new operations up and running, they plan on wider distribution. “It might take us a little longer to get to where we want to be,” says van der Stroom, “but we’ll get there.”