The Netherlands is known for its cheese, amongst other things, and there is no question about why this is, once you discover that the history of cheese making in the region stretches back over 1600 years. The geography of the country lends itself perfectly to cheese production, as there are plenty of grazing pastures in which the dairy cows can feed. Many Dutch specialist cheese require that only milk from Dutch, pasture-fed dairy cows be used.
With hundreds of years of experience to back them, it is no surprise that the Netherlands are one of the leading cheese exporters in Europe, and that the industry has a turnover of around Euro 7 billion per year. There are a lot of different types of cheese in the Netherlands, including goat cheeses and sheep cheeses. Some creameries offer able to offer tasting tours to visitors, whilst other are kept completely private, so if you want to visit, it is best to look on their website before you go. Here is some useful information about some of the Netherlands most famous cheese:
Gouda is one of the most widely produced cheeses in the Netherlands, accounting for around 50% of the country’s cheese production and of course originates from the city Gouda. Historians have actually found references to the cheese which date back to the end of the 12th Century, making it one of the oldest distinct types of cheese in the world which is still in production. It is usually classified as a semi-hard cheese, and has a milk fat content of around 48%. Some Gouda can be aged for over 12 months to help to develop its flavour. Whilst young Gouda cheese is well suited to sandwiches, cubes of matured Gouda are often eaten with Dutch mustard as a snack.
Edam accounts for around 27% of the total cheese production of the Netherlands. Due to the fact that it both ages and travels well, it was the world’s most popular cheese between the 14th and the 18th Century. It was possible to take this cheese on long voyages without it posing significant health risks. Edam is softer than many other Dutch cheeses, because of its lower milk fat content (around 28%), however this also makes it largely unsuitable for toasted sandwiches etc. Mild Wdam is often eaten in combination with fruit, as a snacking cheese or as part of a cheeseboard.
Although Maasdam cheese is a relatively new cheese compared to some of the other cheeses that the Netherlands has to offer, it still accounts for around 15% of the country’s cheese production. It is a swiss-style cheese with distinctive holes, which was introduced in the 1980s to try to compete with Swiss Emmental. It is slightly nuttier and sweeter than Emmental, but it is softer, due to its higher moisture content.
This is the most common sort of komijnekass – or cumin cheese. It is similar to Gouda in many ways, but it has a slightly lower milk fat content. Cumin seeds are added to the curd before it is pressed, in order to give the cheese a distinctive flavour. It is a popular alternative to Friesian Clove Cheese.
Limburger is famous outside of the Netherlands because of its incredibly pungent smell. In the first months, it has a firmer, crumblier texture, which is similar to Greek Feta, but as the cheese matures, it becomes softer and more spreadable. Limburger is a popular cheese in many of Western America’s delis.
Dutch Cheese Markets
If you fancy buying any Dutch cheese of your own, a Dutch cheese market is the perfect place to visit. Although traditional cheese markets are now usually only held for the benefit of tourists, they are a great place to while away a few hours. At these events, a traditional purchasing ceremony will be re-enacted in front of your eyes. These rituals usually involve large wheels of cheese being brought into the market square on traditional hand barrows, where prices are negotiated using a traditional system (known as handjeklap) in which traders clap hands and shout prices. The wheels are then taken away for a formal weighing process. Once the ritual has been completed, there will be plenty of opportunity for you to buy cheese or other local specialties from the local market traders who line the market square.
Alkmaar and Edam are great places to go if you want to experience one of these traditional rituals. Demonstrations take place in Alkmaar on Fridays from 10.00am until 12.30pm from the first Friday in April until the first Friday in September, and in Edam from 10.30 until 12.30pm on Wednesdays in July and August. If you would prefer to see a modern cheese market in action instead, visit the commercial cheese market in Woerden, where Dutch cheese farmers trade every Wednesday morning.