Holland, all too often neglected in gourmet circles, is vital to any culinary exploration of really good food and many Dutch products are so much part of our everyday lives that we find it hard to do without it when we have to. Take Edam for example. Is it possible that there is anyone out there that has never tasted it?
Friesland, a coastal province where the production of dairy products forms one of its largest industries, is known as the home of Edam. The landscape consists mainly of beautiful green grasslands and the cows thrive in the fresh air and on the abundant fresh food, hence the superlative cheese.
From around the early 1500’s Edam cheese was one of the most popular in the world because it tasted darned good, matured extremely well and traveled with relative ease so that it could be introduced internationally – always with huge success. Initially it was sold mainly in the harbour of Edam, whence it takes it’s name and even though today’s cheese is not nearly the same anymore it is still delicious. These days it’s manufactured from partially skimmed milk and it’s fat percentage is lower than Gouda, about 40%. The factory made cheeses are no longer as strongly flavoured as the cheeses of old but when were factory produced cheeses ever anything to judge anything by? The cheese is usually sold in 1,7kg format with the smaller sizes being available as well. I distinctly remember buying baby Edam for my children when they were much smaller whichever country we happened to live in. Today we often find the really big ones here – they are coloured with carotene, if anyone has difficulty recognizing it. This is not the same as the French Mimolette.
Like most of these cheese types, they are coated in paraffin wax and these have a bright orange (sometimes red) or a black coating. This will prove that they have had a minimum maturation of 20 weeks, or thereabouts. I have eaten Edam in Holland that was not covered in wax at all and was heavenly to the taste. However, here in South Africa I believe most of the cheeses are sold far too early as they have a really soft, sweet taste. Once they mature they become drier and saltier with a sophisticated maturity that has to be tried to be understood.
The mature cheeses are perfect for grating. In the olden days they were made in special wooden casks which were used as helmets during uprisings. The word “cheese head”, one of the names the Dutch have been called over the years, originated here.
To go with it a good mature red like a Medoc or my newly discovered personal favourite, any good Savoie white wine.
Cheddar, a pressed raw ripened cow’s milk cheese, is a British institution and as much part of the South African culture as any of the foods they grew up with, love and long for when they live abroad. The name comes from the town of Cheddar in Somerset and the additional process in the production of the cheese is
also called cheddaring! It is amusing to note that King Henry II bought just over 10,000 lbs of the stuff in 1170 for a farthing per pound which goes to show how much of it his household consumed!
Fifty percent of cheese produced in this small country today is cheddar which amounts to just under a billion pounds. West Country Farmhouse Cheddar is recognized by the European Union as PDO (protected designation of origin) even though it isn’t yet. I always prefer traditionally produced cheeses and the farmhouse Cheddar made in Somerset in Britain is, frankly, the best there is. I don’t care that it is produced in about nine other countries – Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands amongst them. Wherever possible I try to stay away from the factory produced stuff because it just never tastes the same. Like many good European cheeses, it is often aged in a local cave. Cheddar is an addictive cheese with varying ages of maturation but most cheese lovers would not consider anything younger than 12 months even though the aging period varies from 3 to about 30. It’s slightly crumbly, pale yellow creaminess varies in strength from milder to tantalizingly sharp when mature. I love cutting thin slices and having it with ice cold South African chardonnay and nothing else or my mother’s thick skinned Seville marmalade on slices of real whole wheat seed bread topped with “not so thin” slices of cheddar. I tasted it on top of a slice of apple pie outside Oxford one rainy afternoon but it didn’t really inspire me all that much and the mere thought of having it with Christmas cake makes me feel a tad off colour. Cheddar cheese is sometimes packaged in black wax or in larded cloth, which allows the cheese to breathe to prevent the entry of contaminants.
“Noord-Hollandse Gouda” is registered with the European Union and is PDO . Noord Holland is where the best pasture areas in Holland are found. Interestingly, Gouda, the old city named by the Van der Goude family and which gave this cheese it’s name is in the South of Holland but sadly the name is generic toay and gouda cheeses can be made anywhere. I discovered that in the year 1000 the city of Gouda used to be a wet marshland filled with small rivers and inundated with peat forests which were harvested a hundred to two hundred years later.
This creamy cheese is made from cow’s milk and the curds are ‘washed’ to get rid of some of the lactic acid so that we get the sweetish cheese we all love today. Coated in black paraffin wax, it can be aged for up to seven years before it’s eaten! My particular favourites are the cheeses that have a slight sweet and tart crispness when they are properly aged. One usually finds year old Gouda with ease and it is sold as mature Gouda locally, but the eighteen month cheeses have also become more easily available these days. I would have a good Sauvignon Blanc with Gouda, if I could choose but it’s rare that I eat it on a cheese platter. It has always been a firm breakfast favourite for me and there is nothing better than a cup of dilmah earl grey tea, thick slices of the rye bread that thierry gets from the local bakery in Rodenkirchen and Suzi’s apricot jam!!!!
Yes Suzi – this is me begging!!