I’m still getting over my bronchitis, so here are some posts I prepared earlier to keep you entertained whilst I take my coughing self back to bed.
Taken from my archive photos, here is a continuation of a small tour through one of The Netherlands best Specialist Cheese Shops: Ed Boele’s in the Fahrenheitstraat in The Hague.
“Old” cheese is what I think is more often called “sharp’ cheese in North America. To be honest, although people say it’s the same thing, we have tried ‘sharp’ cheese in the USA and it tasted nothing like any ‘old’ Dutch cheeses we have here.
Of course we only tried a few in the USA and Canada, so our taste test was far from in depth or comprehensive, but now I’d like to give you the basic Kiwidutch guide to the differences between ‘young’ and ‘old’ cheeses here in the Netherlands.
First let’s talk about ‘Graskaas‘ (literally means: grass cheese). This is the first cheese produced each spring after the cows have been put back out to pasture for the first week of outdoor grass grazing after the long cold winter in the barns eating hay.
The change in diet affects the milk and produces the most creamy cheese of the year which is highly prized and best eaten whilst it is fresh and young. There’s even a Spring Cheese festival where the first wheels of Graskaas are presented for sale, one month ripening time after making. It’s a traditional favourite but naturally due to the very nature of this cheese it’s not around long and you have to be quick to find it.
“Jong” (young) cheese is usually 4 weeks old and is a soft yellow cheese that is mild in flavour. It has a high moisture content and melts easily but gets tough and stringy if overheated. It’s the cheapest of the cheeses and is popular with children.
“Jong belegen” (young mature) is cheese that has matured for eight weeks, it’s still a relatively soft yellow cheese but it’s firmer than the younger Jong and the flavour has intensified somewhat too. Still a cheap cheese since the moisture content is reasonably high.
“Belegen” (mature) in the cheese world, these are the ‘middle aged” cheeses which fall into the slot between Jong and Oud and have usually matured for 4 months. There will be starting to be some real depth in the flavour, the cheese is getting drier and less soft and the colour of the cheese is less yellow.
“Extra belegen“, (extra ripe or extra mature ) These cheeses are usually around 7 months old and are the older of the middle aged cheeses. The texture is now noticeably different (drier) to the soft creamy yellows of the Jong and the flavours are stating to intensify.
“Oud” (old) cheese in The Netherlands is required to be at least 10 months old and now you will start seeing really marked differences in the appearances of the cheese. It cracks and chips into bits when sliced because there is now a lot less moisture and is now noticeably more salty. The flavours start gathering serious strength from now on, and the cheese has a definite bite.
“Overjarig” (literally means “too old”) These cheeses are for the serious cheese lover, they are all over 1 year old and pack a taste punch, are saltier and are no wallflowers when it comes to intensity of flavour. This isn’t a cheese for wimps, this flavour is knock-your-socks-off intense. This is what I call a seriously sharp cheese. It crumbles easily due to it’s low moisture content and an Overjarigcheese of 2-4 years can even have quite a grainy, crystalised texture. It’s the most expensive of all the cheese types because the moisture lost during the ripening process means that it’s the lightest of all the cheeses, and naturally you are paying for the extra flavour.
Invariably you will also see numbers on Dutch cheeses, and not just the price numbers.
If you see “‘ 48 ” then it refers to the percentage of fat of the cheese when the cheese is made using full fat whole milk. Factory cheeses made with half fat milk are typically 30% fat and the really low fat milk will be labelled as slank 20+ (trim) but personally, I think the latter has the taste and texture equivalent of an elastic band.
In my humble opinion, if I’m trying to stay trim then it’s my view that even a tiny amount of a seriously good full fat cheese will satisfy my cheese cravings better than a far larger amount of rubbery low fat substitute.
Also, one few small pointers if you are ever in a Dutch Cheese Shop… they have commercial grating machines, so if you want a lot of really good grated cheese for cooking, just taste and buy as usual and then ask them to grate it for you. they will cut the hard outside edge of the cheese off and it takes about a minute to grate it in their machine, an excellent and easy time saver.
Any good Cheese shop will wrap or offer you cheese bags for your cheeses… these cheese bags look like plastic, they feel like plastic, but there is something different to them (I keep forgetting to ask what) and yes, your cheeses will stay at their best longer in a cheese bag.
Ed Boele’s cheese shop also has a vacuum machine where cheeses can be vacuum packed in plastic. Stored this way they can be kept for up to six weeks without the need for refrigeration and even posted. (The vacuum process, per cheese is a little time consuming, so if this is an option available in your local cheese shop, going to have it done when the shop is less busy will be appreciated).
We have in the past made a very practical gift for our overseas guests who were passing by The Netherlands on their European tour, by getting a selection of small wedges of cheese vacuum packed so that our friends can continue to enjoy them as they travel.
Our recipients have enjoyed their Dutch cheeses on trains and picnics around Europe, all they needed to do was to buy some local crusty bread and break open one of the wedges for a cheap, delicious and easy meal.
One important note though: Oud and Overjarig cheeses will both suffer quality loss if vacuum packed for long… I still do it, but leave instructions that these need to be eaten first and taken out of the vacuum packing as soon as they can manage. We ask for extra cheese bags to be packed loose with these so that the cheeses can be packed into a cheese bag as soon as they come out of the vacuum plastic.
Happily no-one has ever encountered any quality loss yet, because our cheese loving friends haven’t been at all shy to break these open first!