Posted on 29 May 2008 by joost
… which means ‘cheeseheads’. All Nederlanders except my brother in law are cheeseheads, and boy is it true. We eat a lotta cheese. But then again the French do as well.
Cheese is in every household in Nederland: it has been a very basic foodstuff for centuries. As you probably know, Nederland is one of the biggest dairy exporters on the planet. Our prototypical cows can be seen all across the country and supply a huge amount of milk daily (they’re inbred for their milk yield), supply manure for the crops and taste good as well (when grilled). It’s win-win-win, although they do produce a lot of methane.
Besides leaving the milk as-is or turning it into yoghurt we make cheese of it. Where the French have their Brie and Camembert, we have our Gouda. And just like the French cheeses, Gouda is named after a geographic area, a city in this case. You might think Gouda is a sort of open-air museum (especially if you’ve seen pictures of the cheese market) or some kind of industrial cheese factory. No, it’s nothing like that. Gouda is just a reasonably quiet city in the west of the country. Most cheese-making happens elsewhere, in the north of the country. Every part will have their own special variety, but all in all the Gouda type is pretty much the same.
It’s this Gouda (see pic above) that can be found in every refridgerator in Nederland. There are three basic varieties: jong (young), belegen (middle-aged) and oud (old). Young cheese tastes creamy, old cheese tastes hearty/salty. The really old stuff even has little crystals in it. In general, kids like young cheese better. Cheese can be bought in every supermarket and is often really cheap and really tasty.
There are other varieties of Gouda as well; they are as common but not sold as much. There’s your boerenkaas (farmer’s cheese) which is made of raw milk instead of pasteurised milk and always comes directly from the farm. Boerenkaas is much tastier than normal Gouda and each brand is different. I am really not sure if it is safe for pregnant women or not; I have a hard time imagining anything from Nederland can be that dangerous, but it is made of raw milk after all. There’s also komijnenkaas: cheese with cummin seeds in it. Definitely an aquired taste, but still sold everywhere. There’s your goat’s cheese (white instead of yellow) and ‘luxury’ brands and low-fat cheeses with 20% fat contents. (Regular Gouda has up to 45%.)
All Gouda cheeses, when they are whole, are quite big, like a truck wheel. The cheese shop will cut these up for you on the spot. By some bizarre process, the salesperson invariably is able to cut off exactly the amount you wanted (or maybe 20 grams too much). Quite a feat considering young cheese is less dense and every kind of cheese is different in itself. You can also ask for the cheese to be sliced up (in plakjes). When you buy cheese from the supermarket, it’s already packaged in plastic; either whole or in slices.