Bred by the pastoral Frisians two thousand years ago as multi-purpose piebald animals, the Friesian cow is characterised by its distinctive black and white markings.
Following a plague in the 18th century the breed from Friesland and North Holland was crossed with animals from Jutland in Denmark and Holstein in Germany, and, despite being replaced by foreign Holstein-Friesian breeds in the late 20th century, is still regarded as unique to the Netherlands. The ancient breed is kept alive by passionate breeders in the variety Fries Hollands.
Friesians are an integral food product of the Dutch economy, providing dairy produce (milk, butter and cheese) and beef produce. Approximately 1.5 million of these unique cows graze on land reclaimed from the sea over the past three centuries.
The cows reach a weight of 500-550 kg and produce from 7000 litres to 9000 litres of milk annually. The bulls weigh up to 1,000 kg.
In the Netherlands the milk is used to produce an astonishing range of cheeses, from the world famous mass-produced Edammer, Goudse, Leerdammer or Maasdammer to the more interesting Bleu de Wolvega, Friese (laced with cloves and cumin seeds), Graskaas (freshly made summer cheese), Kruidenkaas (herb), Leidse (cumin), Rookkaas (smoked), Zeekraalkaas, and countless artisan cheeses – for a total of 675,000 kg.