Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Gouda; The Cheese, Gouda; The City & Gouda; The, that's a lot of Gouda...

"Why Gouda?" you may ask. Well, I recently had some 6 and 10 year old Gouda and it was, well, absolutely amazing. I had no idea it could be so good. I was confronted with a pungent cheese, rich in Umami, with the almost candy-like characteristics of butterscotch. So, as is my way, I thought I'd write about it.

Gouda, The Cheese
The cheese is made from cow's milk that is cultured and heated until the curd is separate from the whey. Some of the whey is then drained, and water is added. This is called "washing the curd", and creates a sweeter cheese, as the washing removes some of the lactic acid. About ten percent of the mixture is curds which are pressed into circular molds for several hours. These molds are the essential reason behind its traditional, characteristic shape. The cheese is then soaked in a brine solution which
gives the cheese its rind and distinctive taste. The cheese is then dried for a couple of days before being coated to prevent it from drying out, then it is aged, depending on age classification, for a number of weeks to over 7 years before it is ready to be eaten. As it ages it develops a caramel sweetness and sometimes has a slight crunchiness from protein crystals that form in older cheese.

Exported Gouda is usually the young variety (aged between 1 and 6 months, rich yellow in color and with a red or yellow paraffin wax coating). This cheese is easily sliced on bread with a cheese slicer. Exported Gouda has a pungent underlying bitterness, yet is still considerably creamier than other common cheeses, such as cheddar cheese or Edam cheese. Locally, old Gouda (aged between 12 and 18 months, orange-yellow in color and sometimes discernible by a black paraffin wax coating) can be obtained. This strong tasting cheese is hard and often too brittle to cut using a slicer, but it can be sliced by knife or served cut in cubes, with drinks. Smoked gouda which is a processed cheese and Leyden cheese are also popular variations. Gouda is simply unrivaled for that perfect balance of salty and sweet. Deep caramel in color, crunchy, flaky and meltingly smooth on the tongue, a true cow's milk, Dutch Gouda bursts with flavor. The hint of butterscotch at the finish is a signature of this Dutch treat. Gouda pairs well with Cabernet Sauvignon as well as several white wine varietals.

Gouda, The Cheese City
While most people are aware o this extremely popular cheese cheese, few realize that the cheese is named for a historical city and municipality in the western Netherlands, in the province of South Holland. Gouda, which was granted city rights in 1272, is famous for its Gouda cheese, smoking pipes and its 15th century city hall. The town takes its name from the Van der Goude family, who built a fortified castle alongside the banks of the Gouwe   River, from which the family took its name. The area, originally marshland, developed over the course of two centuries. By 1225, a canal was linked to the Gouwe and its estuary was transformed into a harbour. Gouda's fabulous array of historic churches and other buildings makes it a very popular day trip destination.

The History
Around the year 1000, the area where Gouda now is located was swampy and covered with a peat forest, crossed by small creeks such as the Gouwe. Along the shores of this stream near the current market and city hall, peat harvesting began in the 11th and 12th centuries. In 1139, the name Gouda is first mentioned in a statement from the Bishop of Utrecht.

In the 13th century, the Gouwe was connected to the Oude Rijn (Old Rhine) by means of a canal and its mouth at the Hollandse IJssel was developed into a harbor. Castle Gouda was built to protect this harbor. This shipping route was used for trade between Flanders and France with Holland and the Baltic Sea. In 1272, Floris V, Count of Holland, granted city rights to Gouda, which by then had become an important location.

Great fires in 1361 and 1438 destroyed the city. In 1572, the city was occupied by Les Gueux (Dutch rebels against the Spanish King) who also committed arson and destruction. In 1577 demolition of Castle Gouda began. In 1574, 1625, 1636, and 1673, Gouda suffered from deadly Plague epidemics, of which the last one was the most severe: 2995 persons died, constituting 20% of its population. For ages, Gouda cheese and cheese according to Gouda recipe, have been conquering the world. Gouda cheese, or in Dutch: 'Goudse Kaas' is found on all continents.

It all started right here and as soon as the early Middle Ages. It mainly concerned the authentic farm cheeses produced in the traditional manner on the surrounding district farms. As all these products had to find their ways to the customer, Gouda grew into the center of cheese trade because of its good location and ideal water connections with the surrounding places and the ocean port of Rotterdam. The venerable, ancient City Hall of Gouda became the core of the weekly 'Kaasmarkt' cheese market; a fine, bustling trading scene. In 1667 the Gouda city council acquired the right to levy duties on this profitable trade.

De Waag' weigh house
The year 1668 saw the construction of the 'De Waag' weigh house across from the city hall. This was the place where the cheeses supplied and sold were weighed and taxes were determined. 'Goudse Kaas' developed into an increasingly important trading product and various cooperatives and trading houses were soon to establish themselves in and around Gouda.

By now Goudse Kaas is being produced according to its famous recipe all the world over. Still, for real, traditional Gouda farm cheese... the place to be is the Gouda district; places like Stolwijk, Haastrecht and de Krimpenerwaard polder.

Gouda's Sights

Grote of St. Jans Kerk (Great or Saint John Church) - largest cross-shaped church in the Netherlands, famed for its stained glass which were made between 1530 and 1603, considered the most significant stained glass collection in theNetherlands. Even in the 17th century, it already was a tourist attraction.

Waaiersluis (Waaier Locks) a historic lock on the Hollandse IJssel, just east of Gouda.

Museumhaven Gouda (Harbor Museum Gouda)

Gouda Cheese and Crafts Market

Cheese has been traded for over 300 years in the Markt, which is also known for its world-famous City Hall. On Thursday mornings cheese farmers from all over the district used to come to Gouda in their cheese brakes. In the nearby Tiendeweg the horses were unharnessed, after which the brake was pushed by hand to the Markt, where the farmer was assigned a place by the market superintendent and bargaining could take off. When a cheese trader approached a brake, the farmer removed his tarpaulin and started bargaining. After the lot was sold the brake left forthe Kaaswaag for the cheese to be weighed. The trader paid the farmer according to the weighing slip he received. Most of the time payment was made in the beer-house at the end of the market day.

The traditional Gouda cheese market is still held on Thursday mornings (starting mid-June and lasting until early September). Farmers and traders can still be found doing what they have done for ages: haggling, bargaining. Lots that have been sold still go by cheese brake to the Waag to be weighed. Supplying and carrying-off, bargaining and weighing, all these still are as spectacular as they used to be and can be observed at a very close distance.

This also goes for the typical Dutch cheese boys and cheese girls, the latter regularly offering bits of Gouda cheese to visitors. Although preparations always start really early, the Kaasmarkt does not start until 10:am and closes about 12:.30 pm, when the last cheeses have been sold and carried off. The Kaasmarkt is accompanied by a crafts market, presenting traditional, mainly Gouda crafts and products like pottery, claypipes, clogs, farm produce, syrup waffles and, of course, cheeses.

Bon Appetit,


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