A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Last month I had my first experience of traditional Dutch Gouda, called boerenkaas. Previously I was only acquainted with the industrial beige-coloured, pliant variety that is marketed as Gouda in supermarkets across the world. I don’t quite remember the epiphany, but I decided that my lunchtime hunger was deluding my taste-buds and I decided to look beyond my usual gouda-salami boterham. My quest for truth thus brought me together with a group of friends at a dutch cheese farm (or ‘kaasboerderij’) just south of the city of Gouda.
It was a beautiful summer morning, the cows merrily grazing on the farms and the blades of grass glimmering the in the sun. A sprightly man of thirty introduced himself as the manager of a centuries-old family-run farm, now much smaller in its expanse, but committed nevertheless to tradition and quality. He took us around the farm telling us about the glorious days of yore, partly bitter against the industrialisation of cheese production in the late-19th century, but much more proud of the resistance mounted by the individual cheese makers of Gouda against the dairy cooperatives. Today, only about 300 farmers still produce the traditional farmstead cheese.
Literally, boerenkaas means ‘farmer’s cheese’. But in order to be sanctified as such the cheese must have several characteristics. Unlike the factory-produced Gouda, boerenkaas is made on a farm from raw milk, which is what gives the cheese different tastes and fat content depending on the animals’ diet. As a result the cows producing the milk have to be fed the greenest, tastiest grass and need to undergo regular tests. But since the animals are kept indoors in the harsh winters, boerenkaas is made only in spring and summer for the sake of quality.
The raw cow milk is first curdled by adding a few drops of rennet, a substance procured from the stomach of a young calf (the calf of course has to be sacrificed for the connoisseur). The thick curds are then stirred and cut, and the whey is removed.
The curd is put into traditional wooden moulds lined with linen and pressed with weights for a few hours to give it shape.Then the cheese is made to sit a brine bath for a couple of days, which is what gives it flavour and a longer life. The cheeses are moved to a storage room where they are coated with plastic and allowed to age under controlled temperature and humidity. When the cheese has been aged from two to four years it is called Boeren-Goudse Oplegkaas, which gets a distinctive crunchy flavour as the protein starts to crystallise.
….For beauty is truth and truth beauty, that is all I wanna know.
While the ‘age of mechanical reproduction’ may have made the original redundant in the field of visual representation, it undoubtedly continues to be of immense significance in gustation and gastronomy. Indeed, the aura of the original must—for all purposes connoisseurial and practical—be distinguished from the masquerade of that soft, creamy supermarket counterfeit: dry. firm. sweet. and crunchy.