As a land of windmills green meadows and grazing cattle, Holland’s national heritage has been associated with milk, butter and cheese for centuries. However, it might be hard to fathom that this small European country is actually the world’s largest exporter of dairy products. Sending the majority of their cheeses to Western Europe, America, and Japan, the dairy industry is the basis for Holland’s prosperity.
Over the last century, the Dutch cheese industry has undergone massive modernisation. Technology has brought milking machines and computers to the farms, but many dairies still make cheese using traditional methods too.
For the Dutch, cheese making remains an art that is entrenched in their culture. To this day, traditional cheese markets are still held in the towns of Alkmaar, Gouda, Edam and Woerden. And throughout the Netherlands, visitors can explore sixteenth and seventeenth century whey houses and cheese museums.
Home to Gouda, one of the world’s greatest cheeses, Holland also boasts some lesser known varieties that are most definitely worth appreciating. These are some of Holland’s finest:
Dutch Mimolette (Commissiekaas)
Resembling a giant orange with rough pitted skin, this creamy-hard cow’s milk cheese is actually an aged Edam coloured with carrot juice. The cheese ripens in six to 12 months, and when young, the texture is firm and slightly oily. When aged, the colour deepens to a dark orange and the cheese becomes hard, granular and brittle. Dutch Mimolette has a fruity aroma and nutty flavour with a hint of orange zest.
This famous Dutch cheese is the country’s second most exported, after Gouda. Made from skimmed or part-skimmed cow’s milk, the semi-hard pressed cheese is shaped into one- to four- pound balls and coated with red or yellow paraffin. Usually consumed when young, the pale yellow interior is smooth and supple, offering a mellow, sweet, nutty flavour. The all-purpose cheese is wonderful served with dark beer or Pinot Noir.
Holland’s most famous cheese is also its biggest export, accounting for more than 60% of the country’s cheese production. Named after a Dutch town outside of Rotterdam, Gouda is very similar in flavour to Edam, but it’s made with whole or part-skimmed cow’s milk. The higher fat content lends a slightly creamier texture and a yellow interior dotted with tiny holes. Gouda can be eaten fresh or aged. When young, its flavour is sweet and fruity. With some ageing, it takes on a more intensified, complex, Cheddar-like character. If matured over 18 months, the rounds are coated in black wax, while younger varieties are usually covered with rinds of yellow wax (one-pound Baby Goudas are coated in red). The traditional creamery cheese is also available flavoured with cumin or herbs. Gouda makes a superb table or dessert cheese when paired with dark bread, red wine, Riesling or Champagne.
Leyden (Leidan, Komijnekaas)
According to an old saying, “Once a Dutchman eats a piece of Leyden, he is spoiled for any other cheese.” Named after its Dutch city of origin, the traditional farmhouse cheese is made from a blend of partially skimmed cow’s milk and buttermilk. The curd is mixed with caraway or cumin seeds before being pressed, so hints of aromatics and spice mingle with the overall creamy, nutty character. Somewhat similar to Gouda, but drier, the semi-soft cheese is shaped into cylinders and the brushed natural rind is painted with annatto or red plastic. Leyden is the perfect snack cheese for enjoying with dark bread and beer.
Created in the early 1990s, this sweet, buttery cow’s milk cheese is known as the “Dutch Emmental.” Less expensive than the original Swiss variety, Maasdam is nutty, mild and more supple thanks to a higher moisture content. The boulder-shaped cheese is characterized by domed top and large eyes (holes) throughout the flesh. It’s excellent for breakfast, snacks, salads and sandwiches, and may also be melted or grilled with delicious results.
While produced in some of Holland’s most modern dairy plants, this savoury variety is still smoked using ancient brick ovens filled with soldering hickory chips. That’s why many connoisseurs will tell you the brown, smoky, edible rind is the cheese’s best part. Made in large, 18-pound logs, the creamy yellow cheese comes natural or flavoured with garlic and herbs. Smoked Gouda is wonderful on a cheese board, melted into recipes or paired with turkey sandwiches, fresh fruit and beer.