July 8, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
And then there was one

Undeterred in Hawaii

Naked Cow Dairy aims to rise again

By JAN LEFEBVRE | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment
Staff Writer


A member of Monique van der Stroom’s herd of cows has a view of the Pacific Ocean as it grazes near Hawi on the Big Island of Hawaii. Van der Stroom operates Naked Cow Dairy on the island where she produces artisan cheeses and butters.


HAWI, Big Island, Hawaii – Monique van der Stroom runs a one-woman operation, personally delivering her artisan cheeses and butters to customers on the Big Island in Hawaii and shipping products to other customers on the neighboring islands. 

Her business, Naked Cow Dairy, sells its food creations to mostly owners of restaurants and small specialty food stores. 

Van der Stroom said she does not mind forging her own path. 

“I came to Hawaii 32 years ago by myself, right out of college,” van der Stroom said.“My goal when I went to college was to travel. I wanted to learn dairy science and go to different exotic places and apply that dairy science.”

Her real passion, van der Stroom said, is working with animals and dairy farming. She has managed to keep that passion alive as she has faced adversity and has had a front-row seat in watching Hawaii’s dairy decline.

When she and her sister, Sabrina St. Martin, were told by their landlord in 2018 that he would not be renewing their lease for farmland and buildings they were renting on the island of Oahu, the pair faced a crossroads. They had been running the only cow dairy farm and artisan cheese creamery on that island since 2008. Also, they had just days before purchased 20 more cows from Big Island Dairy, which had closed its 1000-cow dairy operation on the island of Hawaii, or “the Big Island” as it is referred to there. The sisters had been planning to increase production.

Suddenly, they had to decide what to do with their cows and business. 

“All the other dairies on all the other islands had closed,” van der Stroom said.

Except for one.

The Big Island still had one last dairy farm – Clover Leaf Dairy – which now held the title of being the last cow dairy farm in the whole state. Van der Stroom reached out to them.

“Clover Leaf Dairy agreed to milk and house my cows until I could find a suitable property to move to and start over,” Van der Stroom said. “My cows went straight to their dairy and were being milked with their cows while I was trying to find land (on the Big Island) and rebuild my place.” 

She also began buying milk from them so that the sisters could resume making cheese and butter.

In 2019, van der Stroom found land to lease near the town of Hawi where she could house her reduced herd. 

Then the coronavirus pandemic arrived.

“When COVID-19 hit, it really shut down most of our (creamery) accounts because most of them were restaurants,” van der Stroom said.

Her sister decided to move to the mainland and pursue a different career. Van der Stroom went solo.

In 2021, she found an old building off-site to repurpose into a creamery, but in 2022, she had to find new land for her cows once again when her landlord decided to sell the land at the going rate for Hawaiian property, a price too steep for van der Stroom. 

However, van der Stroom was not ready to give up. She found pasture land for her small herd of seven cows where they could dry wait until she could build a barn and begin milking.

“I still have my cows, and I do intend milking again,” she said. “Production (of cheese) is OK, but it’s not what I most like. I went to college for animal science, so I really wanted to work with the animals, not as much with the cheese and butter – but it pays the bills.”

Since her sister was the main cheesemaker while van der Stroom managed the milking, her friend, Adrian Buff, who is an artisan cheesemaker from Missouri, often flies out to help van der Stroom.  Other than Buff, van der Stroom does everything on her own. 


Calves have their fill of milk near Hawi on the Big Island of Hawaii. They are part of a small herd owned by Monique van der Stroom, who hopes to begin milking cows again soon after moving her creamery business from Oahu to the Big Island.


Naked Cow Creamery produces Gouda-style and Alpine-style cheeses with local ingredients added such as Hawaiian chili peppers and pink peppercorns. Other products include Fromage Blanc, which is a soft cheese spread, and smoked Guava cheese, made by using guava wood for the smoke. The creamery also produces a variety of flavored butters including tropical toasted coconut butter and kona coffee butter.

“We also make a little bit of labnei, which is a yogurt cheese,” van der Stroom said. “I’m working on getting certified so that we can make yogurt.”

When she was growing up, van der Stroom’s family lived all over the world. Her father worked in international construction, so the family moved as the jobs changed. Besides living all over the U.S., the van der Strooms lived in Greece, Scotland, Austria and Iran. When they lived for a time in the Upper Midwest, it was near Hastings, Minnesota. 

“It was the coldest place I’ve ever been in my life,” van der Stroom said.

Wherever they moved, her father tried to find houses in the country and acquire animals. 

“In Minnesota, we had a barn and had sheep, chickens and a horse, but I’ve always been draw to livestock and farming from a very young age. I don’t know why.”

Her father has relatives in Holland who dairy farm.

“They have a 50-cow dairy,” van der Stroom said. “When I was in college, I actually spent a summer there on that farm – working, making silage and milking cows.”

After college, when van der Stroom was offered a job at Pacific Dairy in Oahu, a 1,400-cow dairy, she took it.

“I managed the dairy for 14 years, but that one closed down too,” van der Stroom said. “A big farm like that won’t come back. That’s when I started my own.” 

Naked Cow Dairy was launched in 2008.

All these years later, as van der Stroom makes cheese on the Big Island, she plans her dairy farming comeback. 

“My barn in Oahu was a brick-and-mortar barn, but I’m looking at a mobile parlor,” van der Stroom said. “I know they do that a lot in Europe, but not a lot is available here. I did see one in California.”

The milking setup would be on a trailer and hauled with a tractor from pasture to pasture.

“It’s kind of like a 20-foot container on a chassis,” van der Stroom said. “I’m looking at something like that because I don’t want the huge investment of a building. If you do it on pasture, there are fewer wastewater issues. The nice thing is you don’t end up with a big, muddy spot where cows go milk all the time because you are continuously moving the parlor.”

She does not need a barn to house the cows because of the Hawaiian climate.

“We have windy, rainy weather sometimes, but there are trees that the cows can go hide in,” van der Stroom said. “There are no barns needed here at all.”

Van der Stroom said she feels strongly about keeping dairy farming in Hawaii.

“We are basically a tiny dot in the middle of this vast ocean,” van der Stroom said. “If you look at Hawaii in that aspect, we are so vulnerable to so many things, and we are not self-sustainable in food production – and we could be because we have a 365-day-a-year growing season. It is important that Hawaii become sustainable in food production more so than any other state in the U.S.”

She said she remembers back to 9/11 when Hawaiians realized that vulnerability. “When 9/11 happened, there was nothing that was coming to the islands; everyone was panicking because we only have two weeks of food on the island at any one time – that’s to feed everyone here and all the visitors,” van der Stroom said. “So, it’s scary. I kind of blame the legislature for not doing more to keep the dairy farms operating. Once you lose those dairy farms, they don’t come back.”

Van der Stroom is determined to be the exception.

“I’m just kind of hanging on until I can get back up,” she said. 


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