Gouda – a cheese for all seasons – travel review

Gouda seller We have many cheese choices in specialist shops and even our local supermarket. Gouda can easily be overlooked. It seems to have been with us forever and we don’t even notice it anymore. The first mention of this cheese dates from 1184, making it one of the oldest recorded cheeses in the world still being made.

This round, yellow cheese takes its name from the Dutch town of Gouda, just a short distance from Rotterdam. It’s the Netherlands’ most popular cheese and, in fact, accounts for more than 60% of the cheese produced in the country.

This is a traditional hard cheese covered in a wax rind which is usually yellow but does also come in other colours. The flavour is mild and creamy but as the cheese ages the taste intensifies and becomes more interesting. The cheese is dried for a few days before being coated with a yellow waxy substance to prevent it from drying out further. Cheeses of 18 months old or more are considered as Mature Gouda and coated in black wax.

Very Old cheese

Gouda is pronounced “Hou-da” by the Dutch and is usually made from pasteurised cow’s milk. There are seven recognised types of Gouda cheese, listed by age. Graskaas (spring cheese) is young Gouda ready to be consumed within 4 weeks of production. Other designations are Young, matured 8 to 10 weeks, Matured – 16 to 18 weeks, Extra Matured – 7 to 8 months, Old Cheese – 10 to 12 months, and Very Old cheese – 1 year or more.  There is also the extra-aged, Overjarig cheese. Each cheese becomes firmer in texture and more complex with the passage of time. As it ages the cheese develops a caramel-like sweetness with crunchy crystals, making this the savoury cheeseboard equivalent of the very trendy salted caramel. Aged Gouda is perhaps my favourite hard-hard cheese.

Gouda market Although the cheese is named after the Dutch city, the cheese isn’t made there, but Gouda is the centre for trading, as in the Middle Ages Dutch cities could be awarded total monopoly on certain goods – Gouda acquired the right to hold a cheese market. Most Gouda these days is produced in cheese factories but 300 or so farmers still produce “Boerenkaas”, or Farmer’s cheese. This is a protected form of cheese made in the traditional way using unpasteurized milk.

Farmers in blue traditional costume

One can still visit that colourful market that is held one day each week for several months of the year. Porters in jaunty hats, farmers in blue traditional costume and noble wagon drivers all help to make this a lively spectacular. There is much banter for the benefit of the tourists, and handjeklap in which buyers and sellers slap each other’s hands and shout prices until they agree, and that’s when the slap becomes a handshake. The porters carry the cheese to the weigh-house to be weighed, tasted and taxed.

Gouda is available in large wheels, each weighing between 10 and 25 pounds although there are some producers who make 60lb cheeses. They are mostly sold in smaller slices to the family shopper. It’s eaten in sandwiches, it’s used in cooking and the more mature cheese is cubed and nibbled along with a good glass of red or some beer.

Give this cheese a try. Find a good cheese shop and taste the unexpected depth of some fine Dutch cheese. The Cheese Market in Gouda is great fun. The town is beautiful with more to see and do when the market finishes. You could visit a restaurant and ask for Gouda Fondue or other dishes made from the town’s most celebrated product.

Gouda costume
Museumhavencafé for cheese fondue
Open from 1 May
Thursday – Sunday from 12:00 to 18:00
Phone    +31 6 44267175

Visit Museumhavencafé here

Learn more about Gouda here

Learn more about other destinations in The Netherlands here