The Essential Guide To Dutch Cheese
Gouda has been produced in the Netherlands since the Middle Ages and is currently one of the most popular cheeses in the world. Its creamy, soft texture and milder tones make it perfect for sandwiches and it is commonly served as a snack in the Netherlands. As Gouda matures, it becomes noticeably harder and gains a sharper flavor that pairs beautifully with dark beers. Older varieties of the cheese are readily available throughout the Netherlands and regularly appear on cheese boards in Dutch pubs.
During the Age of Discovery, red balls of Edam were transported across the globe by Dutch traders and the cheese found its way into many international cuisines. Although this popularity was mainly due to Edam’s remarkably long shelf life, it was nonetheless prized for its nutty, sturdy flavors, which remained almost unaffected by maturation or transport. Today, many countries around the world still consider Edam a delicacy and the cheese is usually eaten in the Netherlands at room temperature with fruit or sweet chutneys.
Although geitenkaas literally translates into English as ‘goat’s cheese,’ it shouldn’t be confused with chèvre or feta. Geitenkaas is usually significantly harder than most other goat’s cheese and possesses a distinctive, mellowed tang. Although most farms in the Netherlands produce this variety, in the northern provinces it is common to find Machedoux – a softer camembert, like goat’s cheese.
Leidse kaas, or Leyden cheese in English, is the most famous type of komijnekaas in the Netherlands and, like other varieties of this cheese, contains ground cumin seeds. It originated in the farmlands surrounding the city of Leiden and resembles a round, chewy Gouda, with specks of brown cumin. Despite its appearance, Leidse kaas actually has a significantly lower fat content than Gouda, which gives it a springy texture.
No trip to the Netherlands is complete without chowing down on a massive plate of local Dutch cheeses, and we've compiled a list of the best.
An introduction to Dutch cheese
Coming from a country rich in fertile farmland that’s perfect for dairy cows, it seems quite natural that the Dutch have a visible passion for good cheese.
Be it at breakfast, on sandwiches, cut in cubes and served with mustard, or even fried in a croquette, you can find an excuse to eat cheese any time of day. So next time you find yourself passing a specialist cheese shop, stop and explore the delicious world of Dutch cheese inside.
Gouda: Holland’s best-loved cheese
The Netherlands produces a variety of tempting cheeses, but the most typical and best known are the hard or semi-hard cheeses. You might be familiar with Gouda – rightfully Holland’s most popular cheese. Yet its only when tasting Gouda in its country of origin that it’s revealed how complex it can actually be. Gouda (as well as many other Dutch cheeses) is categorised by how long it has been aged: jong (1 month), belegen (4 months), oud (10 months), and overjarig (1 year or more). It starts out its life as mild and creamy, but develops a drier texture and more intense flavour the longer it’s aged.
Lesser-known Dutch cheeses
Beyond a broad spectrum of Goudas, the Netherlands produces a number of other cheeses. Geitenkaas (goat cheese) is a bright white semi-hard cheese made for grating, slicing and sandwiches. Filled with holes, Maasdammer has a sweet nutty taste that resembles Emmentaller (swiss cheese). Deliciously creamy Boerenkaas (farmers cheese) is made with fresh unpasteurised milk. Compared to other blue cheeses, Bleu de Graven or Delft’s Blauw has a rich, fairly mild flavour. You’ll also find cheeses studded with herbs and spices like cloves, mustard seeds, nettles and most commonly cumin.
For an introduction to the most popular Dutch cheeses, stop by the Cheese Museum or one of the Henri Willig Cheese and More shops. Next, visit the Reypenaer Tasting Room for a professionally-guided tasting of their award-winning cheese. In the Negen Straatjes (9 Streets) the Kaaskamer’s shelves are stuffed with cheese from the Netherlands and abroad. If can’t commit to a big block, order a baguettes with the cheese of your choice. With four branches in Amsterdam, Tromp (website in Dutch) is an excellent cheese shop with knowledgeable staff ready to answer questions or offer a taste before you buy. Abraham Kef (website in Dutch) offers a selection of raw-milk Dutch cheeses, but is best known for its expertise in French cheeses. Finally, most of the city’s open-air markets have at least one stall selling local and international cheeses.
Bar snacks & dining out
Cheese pairs perfectly with a drink, and nearly every bar in the city has at least one cheese-based snack on their menu. Purists order kaasblokjes – bite-sized cubes of cheese served with mustard for dipping. Kaassoufflés and kaasstengels are two types of deep fried snacks which feature melted cheese surrounded by a crispy coating. The filling might be processed cheese, but they are still addictive with a glass of beer. For a slightly fancier fried treat, try geitenkaaskroketten (a croquette filled with goat cheese).
If you’d rather enjoy cheese with your dinner, consider ordering a kaasplank (cheese board). The city’s Dutch restaurants are a good place to start, but be sure to look under the dessert menu! The cheese course is generally served after the main meal. While not typically Dutch, fondue pops up on menus all over town in autumn and winter. Café Bern (website in Dutch) on the Nieuwmarkt and Fondue & Fondue (website in Dutch) on the Overtoom specialise in this delightful shared dish of melted cheese.
Cheese markets outside Amsterdam
If you’re looking for some cheese-related adventures outside Amsterdam, the Netherlands still has five traditional cheese markets in Alkmaar, Edam, Hoorn, Gouda and Woerden. The markets in Gouda and Woerden are still functioning trading centres where local cheese makers gather to sell their wares to wholesalers. The others put on impressive demonstrations while decked out in old-fashioned garb, surrounded by stalls selling cheese and souvenirs. If you’d like to visit a cheese market, keep in mind that they are only open from late spring through early autumn.
For breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack, the Dutch are passionate about their cheese. Go beyond Gouda and learn more about Holland's best-loved dairy product.