Top 4 from a Dutch cheese journey
Going to the Netherlands means going to the land of gouda. But you don’t have to stay long to understand that there are differences between gouda and gouda.
If you stay in the inner center of Amsterdam you meet several well merchandised cheese shops with gouda in all colors (added spices) and without. But if you go outside Amsterdam and visit the smaller dairies you’ll see that even though they produce gouda, they refer to their cheese by the brand and not as gouda.
Protected name or not?
Gouda is one of the cheese types (like cheddar) which isn’t protected by its origin (PDO). This means gouda is produced all over the world today. But yet there are two protections: Nord-Hollandse Gouda (gouda from North Holland) has the PDO stamp, and Gouda Holland carries the PGI stamp.
Beemster, the area
In the beginning of the 17th century, Amsterdam needed more farm land. Beemster lake was the biggest lake in North Holland with a connection to the sea. In the beginning of the 17th century, a wild project started: 43 windmills pumped out the water over the next few years. Dry land was found 4 meters / 13+ feet below sea level. Windmills are still used today to pump out water and keep the land dry. Today, it is protected as Unesco Heritage, as the first polder in the Netherlands.
The plan was to use the reclaimed land for agriculture. But the soil was too wet. Yet it was perfect for grass and cows. The soil is old sea bed, fertile mineral marine clay, rich and salty.
The grass that grows here has a high level of Omega 3 which adds to the milk quality. However, if the grass gets too long, the Omega 3 dissappears. Therefore, it needs to be cut at the right length when turned into hay 🙂
Beemster, the cheese
4% of all Dutch cheese comes from Cono Kaasmakers, a cooperative in Westbeemster (the biggest player is Friesland-Campina with 75%).
Cono started in 1901 and covers today 460 farmers who in average have 70 free range cows per farm. Their biggest brand is Beemster.
Even though it is an industrial production, they still use some traditional techniques. For example, the cheesemaker stirs the curd by hand (he uses a rake) which ensures an even drainage and thereby a smoother texture.
Cono claims to be the greenest dairy in the world and is aiming at being CO2 neutral in 2020. In 2008, they launched their Caring Dairy-project (‘happy cows, happy farmers, happy planet’) which focuses on sustainable dairy farming. Cows are out 180 days a year, live longer, have better health and give more milk.
Noord-Hollandse Gouda PDO
The old marine clay in the soil is the secret behind the unique taste of the cheeses coming from this area. The blue marine clay gives more taste to the juicy grass and thus to the milk. At the dairy they add less salt which leaves room for a more natural and complex taste.
Gouda from North Holland carries the PDO stamp. One of the describing factors for this particular gouda is a lower salt content than in other goudas. Two producers make this particular gouda (Cono and Friesland-Campina).