Cheeseheads in Paradise

OK, technically, Michael and I are not cheese heads.  We’ve never lived in Wisconsin, and probably never will, not through any problem with Wisconsin:  we just may not come back from Cheese Heaven, AKA the Netherlands, the land of a thousand goudas, their most popular cheese.  (BTW, pronounced properly, in Dutch, “gouda”  sounds something like khoutduh.  For more fun Dutch pronunciations, see Blog
#4, “Dutch is a Pirate Language”.)

We have become acclimated quickly to this culture of cheese.  We have at
least three types of Dutch cheeses on hand daily.  We eat cheese for meals, snacks, hors d’oeuvres, after dinner with fruit.  We love the cheese
here – whatever kinds they happen to be.  And we are still learning the names of different types of Dutch cheese.  Gouda and Edam are just the two most widely known to us as Americans.

Thankfully, I’ve found a cheese stall which sets up in the station plaza
square twice a week; the friendly, English-speaking proprietor gives me “taste slices” to help along the selection process. I plan on visiting often.

Curious about these new cheeses we’re eating – and hopelessly ignorant of them – I turned to cyber sleuthing.  I found out some very
interesting facts about the cheese and dairy industry as a whole in the
Netherlands:

  • 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.
  • Gouda is the Netherlands’ most famous cheese and is also its biggest export, accounting for more than 60% of the country’s cheese production.
  • The Dutch have long been into raising cattle; their remains have been found in the northern part of the Netherlands dating back to 1600 B.C.E.  In Friesland (in the north of the
    Netherlands) pots were discovered which indicate that as early as 200 B.C.E.,
    cheese was being made there.
  • An extensive cheese trade has existed since the Middle Ages.
    • Around the year 1100 Dutch bargemen paid their tolls in cheese at Koblenz in Germany.
    • In bills of the city of Rotterdam dating back to 1426, mention is made of the profession of `caescoper’ (cheesemonger).
    • Beginning in the 12 century, several towns obtained the right to hold a dairy market.  Many of these markets are still held today in the traditional cheese towns of Gouda, Edam, Alkmaar and Hoorn.

A Dutch cheese market, with shoppers ready to come in

  • For centuries cheese making was a craft usually undertaken by women. Nowadays over 98% of all Dutch cheese is produced in modern creameries.

Some of our favorite cheeses I still don’t know the names of.  My personal favorites are the “oude kaas” or “old cheese”, the type that has crystalized a bit through the aging process.  Some of these hae been goudas, another type is simply called “old Amsterdam”, and others I’m still not sure what their names are.  A more recent favorite — suggested by our new cheesemonger — is a cheese with caraway seeds in it:  delicious!  Many goudas are made with different herbs blended in, and those are on the shopping list for tomorrow’s visit to the cheesemonger.

A well-stocked cheese stall.

Look for more musings on Dutch culinary treats such as bitterballen, already mentioned but worthy of greater examination; raw herring appetizers, the famous Rijstaafel and more.

OK, here’s what a real Wisconsin cheesehead looks like:

And, yes, we rooted for the Packers in this past Super Bowl!

June 14, 2011

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