Maître Philippe & Filles are better known for French cheeses and we want to keep it that way. However, there are rumors that the Dutch also achieve quite acceptable results when it comes to cheese...
The most famous Dutch cheese is Gouda, a large, round hard cheese made from cow's milk, if possible without holes, which comes from the eponymous village in the Netherlands, or at least is named after it. The name itself is not protected, which is why Gouda can and is made anywhere in the world. It is therefore obvious that the quality is not always right.
Gouda comes in young, middle-aged, old, made from pasteurized milk, in slices... You can get it in any supermarket discounter... but there are also producers who make it the traditional way from raw milk. You can then get it in one piece and in great quality from specialist retailers.
We also count among our few selected non-Frenchmen a real Dutch Gouda, currently one that was allowed to mature for thirty months !
But where does the Gouda actually come from? And are there still farmers in the village of the same name who produce it in the traditional way?
To find out, I went to Holland with a film team from Kabel Eins. For the program "Adventure Life - experience something new every day" we wanted to "unveil the secret of the real Gouda" and went in search of the so-called Boerenkaas (farmer's cheese). We found what we were looking for with the De Jong family, who have kept cows on their Jongenhoeve farm for generations and who produce real Boerenkaas, cheese made from raw cow's milk, from the milk of their current 440 cows. Just as there is a distinction between "fermier" and "artisanal" in French cheese, there are also categories in Holland that are "farmers cheese" and "farm cheese". Farmers cheese means that the farmer uses the raw milk from their own cows, which live outdoors for part of the year, which of course gives their milk a special aroma. Farm cheese is cheese made by the farmer from pasteurized milk, which he buys because he doesn't keep his own animals. And then, of course, there is the industrial cheese, which is made from pasteurized milk in large plants and for which the milk is bought in large quantities from everywhere.
To get in the mood, we first visited the traditional cheese market in the old town of Gouda on the first day - a kind of open-air theater production of traditional market and trade scenes, which takes place twice a week for tourists and, including Meisjes and clogs, offers everything that the hungry camera lens coveted.
On day two, things finally went medias res: at 8 a.m. we drove to the De Jongs' farm, the Jongenhoeve, to see up close how Gouda is made the traditional way. The De Jongs keep 440 cows that are milked twice a day. The yield is around 13,000 kilos of milk a day, from which 1,300 kilos of cheese can be made.
The same steps are actually always followed for the production of Gouda – regardless of whether it is a traditional family business, as in our case, or a large industrial plant.
Cheese production step by step:
- the (freshly obtained) milk is let into a vat.
- Bacteria, calcium and rennet are added, causing the milk to curdle: the milk curds in a flash after the rennet is added, and then the so-called curd (the curd) separates from the whey.
- Big knives go through the vat again and again, cutting the curd into smaller and smaller pieces. At some point, the whole thing looks like a Chinese egg flower soup, just in white.
- the whey is pumped out to get rid of unwanted proteins and fats and keep only those needed for the cheese. On Jongenhoeve the whey is used for pig fattening, other farms sell it to companies that make muscle building powder for bodybuilders. It is extremely rich in proteins, which are valuable for muscle building.
- Now water is added to the curd again and then the whole thing is cut up again, with somewhat finer cheese harps.
- the mass is pressed by hand (or with the use of all arm strength) into molds whose underside is perforated so that excess liquid can drain off.
- the bodies are provided with a paper label that provides information about the origin and quality class.
- the cheeses are pressed, turned and pressed again (duration varies depending on size)
- the cheeses go into a salt bath where they stay depending on their size, weight, density and seasoning (pure or eg with herbs etc.). This salt bath and the bacteria contained in the cheese, which only begin to take effect after a while, are responsible for the fact that the curd, which was originally tasteless, eventually tastes wonderfully spicy, aromatic, buttery ... like cheese. Incidentally, this salt bath is never changed because the water is so saturated with salt that it cannot absorb any more. This also makes it sterile. Nothing unwanted can develop in it and the bacteria contained in the cheese cannot harm it either. The brine is also one of the reasons why cheeses from different farms have a special taste that is characteristic of their farm, even if they are all "only made with milk".
- the cheeses are placed on wooden boards and brushed with liquid plastic . This plastic has replaced the wax previously used, which is surprising at first, but for obvious reasons: the plastic still allows the cheese to breathe, as it allows both moisture and air to pass through, while wax hermetically seals the cheese. Learned something again.
- Now the maturing begins in the cheese warehouse, which lasts for various lengths of time.
I was allowed to try my hand at shaping the cheeses and I have to admit that it is quite a strenuous task. First of all, it is not so easy to estimate the right density and weight. The standard weight is 10 kilos, but the De Jongs also produce 60 kilo bodies, as well as smaller bodies of 1, 2 and 5 kilos.
Incidentally, the curd tastes amazing: it tastes like nothing. I would have expected it to taste at least milky, but there really isn't a trace of it. I had to taste it several times, I was so irritated at first. You really think your brain is playing tricks on you. Especially since the curd looks like completely white scrambled eggs and has a funny, rubbery, soft consistency.
After I was allowed to sit in on production, I visited Ms. De Jong in the adjoining courtyard boutique, whose doorbell hardly rang during our visit. De Jongs' cheese is obviously very popular!
The most popular among customers is the medium-aged Gouda of two years, just ahead of the very young cheeses flavored with herbs: Gouda with cumin, with fenugreek or with paprika, basil and garlic. Less in demand, but all the more noble are the 5-year-old bodies that mature under the roof in a large warehouse.
I brought a piece of the 2 year old and a piece of the 5 year old Gouda to taste at home in Berlin and with our team.
On the recommendation of Ms. De Jong we tasted the very old Gouda with port wine and then also with our good Madeira . Our conclusion: the 2-year-old Gouda tasted really wonderful - spicy, aromatic and full of character. No comparison with sad Gouda from the supermarket, especially not with the boring young variant. The 5-year-old Gouda, on the other hand, tasted very special: almost alcoholic and really very spicy. Nothing for beginners! Broken into small pieces (it's so hard that it crumbles like parmesan when you cut it) it pairs extremely well with port wine .
We all liked it best with the delicious tawny port wine from Rita Marques Ferreira (Conceito Vinhos). A combination for advanced users who want an extraordinary umami experience.
For anyone who wants a matured Gouda that has nothing to do with the plastic-like supermarket cheese, we currently have a 30-month-matured raw milk Gouda from Holland on offer.
Like the Jongenhoeve cheese, it is made from raw cow's milk and in a traditional way.
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About a month after the visit to Jongenhoeve, we went to Sachsenmilch near Dresden to see how industrial Gouda is made. The actual work steps are actually the same here in the largest dairy in Europe (!), but everything is standardized and high-tech and you can see neither the milk nor the actual process of cheese production for all the machines. With a throughput of between 4.8 and 5.2 million liters of raw milk a day, that's no wonder. The milk is delivered by a fleet of 190 trucks from various farms in Germany and the Netherlands and is centrifuged and pasteurized for further processing. Around 350 employees work in cheese production and produce 50,000 tons of cheese a year!
Needless to say, it was a completely different experience. It was always exciting nonetheless.
Here are a few more impressions:
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You can find the entire Abenteuer Leben program online in the Kabel Eins media library .