Cheese markets are still held in Holland. Some are just for tourists, such as the Alkmaar, Hoorn and Edam markets, but they are still worth seeing. The traditional cheese market trade is re-enacted in these towns every summer in front of the gorgeous old cheese weigh houses. The ritual features cheese bearers donning straw hats, brightly colored wooden stretchers and lots of cheese. The Cheese Museum in Alkmaar is also worth a visit.
The cheese markets at Woerden and Gouda are the only remaining functioning commercial markets. Farmers from the area have their cheese weighed, tasted and priced here. Cheese has been traded on the Gouda cheese market for over three hundred years. Buy some Gouda cheese there, or peruse the many exhibitions related to cheese production surrounding the market. At Woerden, you can buy boerenkaas, delicious artisanal raw milk farmhouse cheese. Some farmers also open their farms up to the public for tours and tasting sessions.
Also worth a visit is Reypenaer's Tasting Room on the Singel, one of Amsterdam's old city center canals. Foodies the world over have long embraced Reypenaer cheese, an artisanal Gouda and a two-time Supreme Champion winner (best European cheese out of all categories) at the Nantwich International Cheese Show, the world's largest.
Dutch Cheese Varieties
Gouda is a semi-hard cheese with a 48 % milk fat content and a mild to piquant taste. Ageing intensifies the flavor and hardness.
Graskaas is made from the first milkings after the cows return to the grassy polders from a winter spent inside. The fresh spring-time grasses lend the 1 month old cheese a rich, creamy texture and naturally yellow color. When graskaas is only aged for up to 1 week it has a milky color and is called meikaas. Jonge kaas (aged for 4 weeks) and jong belegen kaas (2 months) are well-suited for sandwiches. Other Goudas are fantastic for cooking; try extra belegen (aged for 7-8 months) if you're looking to substitute Jack or Cheddar cheeses. The oldest varieties, such as oude kaas (aged for at least 10 months) and overjarig (1 to 2 years), are excellent for eating in crumbly shards with a nice, sharp mustard or slick of apple syrup.
About 50% of the cheese production in Holland is devoted to this iconic cheese, making it our most important and best-known cheese. Gouda usually comes in cheese wheels weighing 26.5 pounds (12 kilos) and Baby Goudas of half a pound to a pound (250 g to a kilo). Beemster, Reypenaer and Old Amsterdam are popular commercial brands.
Edam cheese is the second most important cheese in the Netherlands, making up 27% of our total cheese production. Edam is semi-hard, with a fat content of 40% and a very mellow, salty taste that appeals to all ages. Ageing intensifies the flavor and hardness. The cheese has a typical round shape and weighs 4 pounds (1.7 kilos). Baby Edammers weigh half a pound (1 kilo). Export versions often have a red paraffin coating. Westland exports good Edam cheese, but whatever brand you buy, make sure it is from Holland. Cheap imitations that taste nothing like the original abound, unfortunately.
Maasdammer cheese represents 15% of Dutch cheese production. It has large holes, a domed shape and a sweet, nutty taste. The shape, typical taste and holes are created by special bacteria that release gases during the maturation process. Leerdammer and Maasdam are the best known brands of Maasdammer cheese.
Boerenkaas (literally, farmer cheese) is a raw milk cheese, i.e. unpasteurized. By law, at least half of the milk used in the production of boerenkaas should come from the farm's own cattle. The other half may be purchased from no more than two other dairy farms. This ensures an artisanal product.
Dutch goat's cheese is available as the familiar fresh, soft goat's cheese we all know and in the semi-hard Gouda style. The advantage of this goat's cheese is that it needs a shorter maturation process than cheese made from cow milk. Semi-hard goat's cheese is pale, with a slightly piquant taste, but a creamy melt-in-the-mouth texture. Look out for aged Bettine Grand Cru , which was chosen 2006 Best Cheese of the World during the annual Nantwich International Cheese Show in England.
Smoked cheese is melted and smoked, and then reconstituted into sausage-like shapes. It is usually sold in slices and has a distinctive brown rind and a smoky taste.
This cheese is made with low fat milk, cumin and cloves. The cheese is quite firm in texture and comes in a wheel with sharp edges. A long ripening process creates a hard, dry and somewhat tart cheese.
The original cumin cheese from Leiden is dry, piquant and somewhat tart. It has a fat percentage of 40%. Ageing intensifies the cumin flavor. Boeren Leidse (literally 'farmhouse Leiden cheese') has a fat percentage of 20% and a dark red rind with the Leiden city crest (keys) on it.
While blue cheese is not strictly traditional in the Netherlands, the Dutch do make some delicious Gouda cheeses with powerful blue veins rippling through them. The most commercially available brand, called Delfts Blauw (also called Bleu de Graven) tastes rich and sweet, and not as salty as roquefort. There is also an organic brand, Bastiaanse Blauw (available at organic stores and Marqt supermarkets in the Netherlands).
This category includes cheeses (mostly Gouda or boerenkaas) that are flavored with herbs such as parsley and chives, but also more unusual ones such as nettles, mustard, onion or pepper.
Try these delicious cheeses for yourself. I found a few online cheese shops that have quite a good selection of Dutch cheeses. They all ship internationally.