In March, we started selling a new gouda from l’Amuse cheese shop, in Santpoort-Noord in the Netherlands. It’s fantastic stuff: rich, barely tangy, subtly sweet. It immediately became a staff favorite.
But if you ever get to visit l’Amuse, don’t expect to find gouda on the shelves. “We don’t really use the word ‘gouda’ in the Netherlands,” Betty Koster, owner of l’Amuse, explained to me. Instead, she calls this cheese a Beemster, after the region it comes from. “Gouda” isn’t a very precise term: though it’s always made using the same techniques and in the same shape, gouda can be made anywhere in the world; it can be aged anywhere from one month to several years; it can range in size from one to 88 pounds per wheel; its flavor can vary from mild and creamy to intense and nutty. No wonder Dutch cheese shops prefer to use more precise names!
When I asked Betty what makes this particular gouda (er, Beemster) so special, she explained it’s a combination of factors.
- The soil in Beemster is a sweet, salty clay. The grasses and other pasturage growing in this soil make for flavorful, creamy milk.
- The Holstein-Friesian cows are never overmilked. While some farmers take as much as 90 liters of milk per cow per day, these cows are never milked more than 30 liters per day.
- The cheese is matured at a warm 15°C (or about 50°F). This speeds up the aging process, allowing for more intense flavor development but also creating a risk that off-flavors may develop.
- The cheese is made to be eaten at a particular age, and Betty is careful to select and sell only cheeses that are at their peak.
The gouda we sell is aged about two years, and each wheel has been hand-selected for us by Betty. Though older cheeses are often drier, this one has a creamy, almost velvety texture. It’s also dotted with plenty of crunchy flavor crystals. The flavor is buttery, almost toasty like roasted hazelnuts or caramel.
And how to eat it? Betty offered two suggestions: cut thin slices for sandwiches, or – her personal favorite – lob off small lumps and it eat plain. If the rapidly-disappearing hunk of it I have here beside me is any indication, I think I must agree.