Flour-making windmills give old Dutch icon a different spin

18th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

At the tender age of 13, Nathan Voogd already had his dad Piet's permission to help "drive" the family's 165-year-old Dutch windmill called "De Hoop" (The Hope), which towers over the quaint southern Dutch town of Ouddorp.

Some 160 kilometres (100 miles) to the northeast, Eric Dudink, 49, keeps tuned for a breeze on a quiet day to turn the massive wings of his own windmill, "De Krijgsman" (The Warrior), a windmill which traces its history as far back as 1602.


But unlike more than 1,000 other tourist-attracting counterparts that dot the Dutch landscape and are as iconic as tulips and cheese, you will not find sight-seers at the Voogd family and Dudink's windmills.

For these are so-called "trades mills" and remain part of a handful of old Dutch windmills still used today by their owners to commercially produce flour.

"In the whole of the Netherlands there are about 20 or so mills left that produce flour from their millstones," said Dudink, who bought the "De Krijgsman" 16 years ago in the northern Dutch fishing town of Hoorn.


"Of those 20 or so, only eight have full-time millers," he told AFP.


Dependent on the strong breezes sweeping in over the Marker Lake, Dudink reminds one of Hoorn's famous ancient seafarers, as he stands on the 20-metre-high (65-foot) scaffolding of the "De Krijgsman".


The old mill's innards bear a remarkable resemblance to the inside of an ancient sailing ship as it creaks and strains against the wind that drives its wooden cogs and gears.


It is here where the two millstones are housed to rotate and grind out top quality flour including what Dudink claims to be "the best pancake flour in the Netherlands," packaged in bags of one, two and five kilograms (two, four and 11 pounds) bearing "De Krijgsman's" logo.


In Ouddorp, in southern Holland, the "De Hoop" windmill is run by Piet Voogd, 51, and his sons Niels, 21, Jordi, 17 and Nathan -- who at the age of eight started helping and is now well on his way to become the sixth-generation of Voogd millers.


"We grew up with this mill," said Nathan Voogd as he steers "De Hoop's" wings into the wind.


Both the "De Hoop" mill and "De Krijgsman" are used to drive the massive milling stones -- which can weigh as much as 1.3 tonnes.


Total production at the Voogd mill runs to about 50 tonnes a week, of which five tonnes are produced by the windmill. The other 45 tonnes are made inside the Voogds' milling factory by a set of electrically-driven stones.


A well-regarded brand in the Netherlands, Voogd milling supplies flour to the mega-supermarket chain Albert Hein and exports to Belgium as well.

While at "De Krijgsman" -- Dudink supplies Spar supermarkets among others, and is also looking for export opportunities including to Canada -- production on a yearly basis is split in half between "green" wind power and electricity.


Dudink's mill, which has a set of stones that can either be driven by wind or electrical power, produces about seven tonnes of flour a week.


Although electricity is also used to drive the millstones, traditional Dutch millers insist their windmills are essential to their businesses and lend a special texture to their flour, used for baking bread and famous Dutch pancakes.


"Our mills also tell the story of our business, it radiates to the outside world who we are," says Piet Voogd.


"It's a real eye-catcher," adds Dudink.


But traditional flour milling's not always an easy business.


Those who persist face an uphill battle, mainly because the upkeep of a mill 150 years or older is expensive and it was becoming harder to find apprentices willing to learn the ancient art.


"On average, we spend about EUR 1,000 a month on maintenance," says Dudink.


Despite hardships, traditional Dutch millers believe their age-old art will endure and that they will continue to produce flour in the old way -- flour with a taste they say cannot be replicated through any mechanical process.


Says Fred Prins, who runs another Dutch trades mill, the 217-year-old "De Walvisch" (The Whale) in Schiedam, south of The Hague: "In 200 years from now, things like computers and cellphones made today will most certainly not be there anymore.


"But like 200 years before today, old mills will remain and continue to make top quality flour."


AFP/ Jan Hennop/ Expatica



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