Interested in Dutch cheeses but don’t know an Edam from a Leyden? One of the products people in the Netherlands are most proud of is their cheese. The country, though small in land area, is rich in variety of cheese flavours and styles. In this article we’ll introduce some regional Dutch cheeses, describe the differences between them and offer tips for pairing.
One of the Netherlands’ most iconic cheeses, Gouda is found everywhere — probably even in the meal you were served on your flight to Amsterdam. This rounded, yellow wax-covered cheese is instantly recognizable to most cheese lovers (although the U.S. and Canary Islands import their Gouda in red wrappers). Created in the area around the town of Gouda in South Holland but now sold and made worldwide, Gouda cheeses are still offered the respect and tradition of being weighed, tasted and bartered for at the weekly cheese market in Gouda proper, every Thursday during the summer.
In the Netherlands, as elsewhere in the world, Gouda cheese is nice on sandwiches and with crackers. However, Dutch restaurants may recommend pairing aged Gouda with pale beers to balance the taste.
When ordering, visitors to the Netherlands should be careful of how they ask for a Gouda cheese — though here in Australia we usually pronounce it “goo-dah,” the Dutch way of saying it sounds more like “how-duh.”
What’s the only cheese made backwards? Edam, of course. (E-D-A-M, get it?) Mellower and containing less milk fat than Gouda, Edam cheese is the Netherland’s second most popular cheese. It’s also sold in round, waxed wheels around the globe, with red wax in Australia and yellow at home.
Edam originated near a town of the same name in North Holland, and was a common ship’s provision during the exploration of the New World. We don’t know how it tastes after 30 days at sea, but Edam is nice with a variety of wines. Try it with dry or semi-dry white wine to bring out the mellow flavour, or contrast it with a tannin-rich red.
Possibly Europe’s smelliest cheese, the Limburger story began in the 19th century in the duchy of Limburg. There’s no such place now, but the duchy used to be positioned on parts of present-day Dutch, German and Belgian territories. A salty, creamy, pungent cheese, Limburger has been made with goat’s and cow’s milk, but the variety sold now is usually made with bovine milk.
Americans are fond of Limburger sandwiches, but Europeans prefer this stinky cheese open-face on rye bread with onion. Washing it down with a Belgian ale is completely appropriate.
The Maasdammer style of cheeses includes the trademarked Leerdammer, and is one of the newest additions to the Dutch cheese panoply. It was created by the Baars company in 1984, and named after the town of Maasdam, near Rotterdam. Although Dutch, this cheese is often described as a Dutch Swiss or a Dutch answer to a Norwegian Jarlsberg. Whichever country is more descriptive we’re not sure, but in essence, Maasdammer is a mild-flavoured cheese pocked with holes from the ripening process. It is sweeter and nuttier in flavour than a Gouda or Edam cheese.
Maasdammers can be used in cooking, as when melted over meat in a ham and cheese toastie.
The only spiced cheese on this list, Leyden looks like Gouda from the outside. Once you cut the wax however, Leyden cheese is warm and yellow in color and studded with flavourful cumin seeds. Following the tradition of the other Dutch cheeses, Leyden was named after the city of Leiden —the cheese is spelled with –ey but the city is spelled with –ei — in South Holland. Unlike the other nibbles, however, Leyden cheese made in the traditional farmer’s way has achieved Protected Designation of Origin status from the European Union. This means, like France’s Champagne, the name “Boeren-Leidse met sleutels” may only be used for this particular type of cheese. We’ll just stick to calling it Leyden, but we like that it’s tasty enough to be protected by the higher-ups.
The mild cheese base and sharp cumin additions can make Leyden a tricky cheese to pair. It adds a bit of life to a generic cheese platter, but gets overpowering if you try to make a rye bread sandwich. Red wines tend to work well with Leyden, but it’s traditional to choose an ale.
Dutch Cheeses Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons by cheeseslave
Edam Cheese Wheels Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons by stevekc
About the Author: Carrie van Horne has spent the past 10 years obsessing about her Dutch ancestry. In that time, she’s picked tulips, tasted cheese, and discovered a passion for genealogy. She blogs about the Netherlands, family ancestry, and food from her home in Canberra.