Gouda, cheese racks, and a supply chain problem : Planet Money Jelle Peterse's company ships cheese all over the world, but they don't always get their cheese racks back. In this episode, we try to fix a supply chain problem. Gouda grief!

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The case of the missing cheese racks

The case of the missing cheese racks

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Small wheels of Gouda line the shelves at 't Kaaswinkeltje cheese shop in Gouda, the Netherlands. Amanda Aronczyk/NPR hide caption

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Amanda Aronczyk/NPR

Small wheels of Gouda line the shelves at 't Kaaswinkeltje cheese shop in Gouda, the Netherlands.

Amanda Aronczyk/NPR

Back in July, we got an email from a man named Jelle Peterse. Jelle lives in the Netherlands, and he's got a job in a very Dutch industry. Jelle's company distributes cheese to buyers worldwide. The Netherlands is actually the second largest exporter of cheese in the world, after Germany. Cheeses like Gouda, Edam, Old Amsterdam - last year, the country made more than two billion pounds of cheese, more than half of which was Gouda.

Jelle Peterse is a supply chain expert at a large Dutch cheese company. Amanda Aronczyk/NPR hide caption

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Amanda Aronczyk/NPR

Jelle Peterse is a supply chain expert at a large Dutch cheese company.

Amanda Aronczyk/NPR

The cheese business in the Netherlands is big, old, and everyone knows each other. Jelle explains that family connections sometimes date back hundreds of years; the Dutch cheese business is steeped in tradition. There's even a clandestine cheese guild with secretive ceremonies and arcane practices (okay, not really - they have a website.)

But Jelle isn't in the cheese guild - he's fairly new to all this. And that has made it challenging to deal with a problem he was hired to fix. He's a supply chain expert, he's responsible for thinking about how to move his company's cheese around. One of his most valuable assets is the cheese rack: metal shelving with wood planks specifically made for transporting entire wheels of cheese.

Custom-built cheese racks used for transporting cheese wheels at a warehouse near Gouda in the Netherlands. Amanda Aronczyk/NPR hide caption

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Amanda Aronczyk/NPR

Custom-built cheese racks used for transporting cheese wheels at a warehouse near Gouda in the Netherlands.

Amanda Aronczyk/NPR

Jelle says that these are custom-built. Each one costs nearly 500 dollars. And Jelle has a problem with his cheese racks. Once the cheese is sold, the racks are supposed to be returned to him. But out of the 2000 or so racks his company owns, he can only account for a couple dozen. Even in this friendly industry, Jelle's customers are just not returning the racks. So, he emailed Planet Money to see if we could help him solve a cheese rack mystery.

NPR's Chef Janis McLean recommends pairing this episode with an aged Gouda, such as a Beemster. For wines, a full-bodied red such as a cabernet franc or pinot noir would go nicely. If you prefer a younger Gouda, you might pair it with a grenache or chardonnay, or perhaps a white wine such as a riesling. Cheers!

Music: "All Mouth and No Trouser," "Barney's Bagels," "Heavyweight," and "Strolling In The Snow."

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