I wrote a column on Beemster cheeses for Ink Magazine in the spring of 2011. Since that time, approximately 1,000 wheels later, Beemster cheeses have soared in popularity in our shop. For those of you who do not know Beemster goudas, it is time to get acquainted with this wonderful set of Dutch cheeses.
The story of how Beemster cheeses are made is fascinating. The Beemster company manufactures its cheeses in polders located in Holland. For those who may not know, polders are parcels of low-lying land reclaimed from a body of water (such as a lake, a marsh or even the sea) that are also surrounded by dikes, to keep water out. Approximately 3,000 of them exist in the Netherlands alone.
For over a hundred years the farmers of a co-op in the Netherlands have been making exceptional cheese in polders. The history of these polders dates back to the early 1600s, when certain bodies of water were first emptied. With its completion in 1612, the now dry, useable land was divided among its investors and the co-op began to grow. The land proved beneficial for farming and the area began to prosper. In 1901, a co-op was formed by CONO Kaasmakers, the makers of Beemster cheeses. The pastures within this land are pesticide-free and contain special minerals that offer a sweeter and softer milk fat. These smooth, creamy qualities are evident in the cheeses that Beemster produces.
All Beemster goudas are made using conventional, natural Dutch methods. Rennet is added to fresh milk, and the resulting coagulation forms curds. The curds are then cut and pressed into shape. Once formed, they are given a brine bath and the aging process begins. Every wheel is hand-turned and polished each day to ensure perfection. Beemster wheels will vary in age from a few months to 26 months.
Although we do not carry the entire Beemster line of cheeses, the following choices have worked well for us:
This 26-month-old cheese is sharp, with butterscotch, whisky and pecan undertones. It has a creamy finish and pairs well with Vintage Port, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. Many of our customers refer to it “adult candy.” I like it with single malt scotches and bourbons. People are especially fond of the subtle crystalline texture (formed by salt and calcium deposits) found in the cheese.
An 18-month-old cheese with a sweet and creamy texture, Classic teams well with Roquefort and Muenster and is often enjoyed with Vintage Port, Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon. Classic is similar to XO but has less crystal formation.
Vlaskaas is a Gold Medal winner three times over and one of my personal favorites. This sweet and creamy varietal is excellent for cooking because it melts so nicely. Pair it with red grapes and walnuts. Vlaskaas holds distinction ranking as one the top two cheeses sold in our shop.
Smooth, clean taste and deep, complex flavor are the defining attributes of Beemster Goat. This cheese pairs well with red grapes, cashew nuts and honey. Enjoy it with Pinot Grigio, Claret and Sancerre. Beemster Goat bears similarity to Midnight Moon, which is another store favorite.
General Notes About Care
As with all cheese, special care should be taken to maintain freshness. Cheese wedges should be tightly wrapped in fresh plastic film wrap (Saran, for example) each time they are opened. If you re-wrap with old plastic film wrap, you will reintroduce any beginning molds back to the cheese surface; plastic film wrap only seals well the first time it is used. If these steps are not taken, your cheese will dry out more quickly and lose flavor. Protect your treasures.
When purchasing cheese, try to buy fresh-cut pieces from whole wheels at time of sale. It is always best to taste a fresh sample of your choice directly from the wheel, and not from a sample that has been cut into cubes hours prior. Only in this manner can one be certain the cheese is at its peak condition. Avoid pre-cut, Cry-o-Vac packaged cheeses. They might have started as the same great cheese but will unfortunately now include a subtle plastic taste, hence ruining what might have been a great cheese.
When serving cheese, it is best to allow wedges to rest at room temperature, remaining wrapped, for an hour or two before serving. Only then should you unwrap and serve. Refer to the above-mentioned suggestions for pairing with the cheese(s) you have selected. This will enhance the experience for you and your guests.
Look for the Beemster family of cheeses when you shop. You will be happy you did.