Don’t Fear Saying Gouda
Editor’s Note: We pity locavores in other parts of the country. What do they do for cheese? For us in the Midwest, we have the opposite problem. We have so many great cheeses. With these choices, do you always know what to say? Our new cheese writer, Nick Lush (who, honestly sounds like the lead singer in an English punk band, no?), tells us to say gouda. In addition to talking about cheese on the Local Beet, Nick will be happy to discuss his favorites at Pastoral where he mainly works at the Lakeview location (but can be found at all three).
One of the most common questions my colleagues and I get asked as cheesemongers is some variation of ,“how did you learn all of this?” The truth is that there isn’t really any uniform answer. For many of the mongers at Pastoral, cheese is, and has been, a passion for some time. For others, it’s something they want to learn more about. In any case, it’s something that we enjoy learning about and talking about both inside and outside of work.
For me, my interaction with cheese started extremely young, hanging around the kitchen with my Dutch granddad in San Francisco. He would have wheels of Gouda airmailed to him from shops in his native Amsterdam. He would happily slice pieces for my lunch or just for a snack. Dutch cheeses are some of the first cheeses that I can distinctly remember having. Unfortunately, in the world of artisan cheese, Gouda has come in for more than its fair share of derision, and I have to admit that much of that is not without cause. Gouda, despite its world renown, is not a name-protected cheese. This means that unlike so many of the French cheeses that we know (or perhaps more accurately, know terrible approximations of—more on that in a later post), there is no legally protected recipe that must be used to use the name “Gouda”.
In the states, we can’t even agree anymore on how the word is pronounced. The traditionally anglicized “GOOH-da” works fine for me, but if you want to give the Dutch pronunciation—“HOW-da”—a go, I’ll still know what you mean, especially if you glottalize the “g” like the Dutch would. Think the “ch” in challah or Chanukah. This encourages some cool developments, like Marieke Penterman’s flavored Goudas (foenegreek and smoked cumin being my favorites), and a stunning range of wildly different cheeses based on aging time alone. However, it also prevents any standard being maintained for what Gouda is, or must taste like, and therefore there are scores and scores of bland, uninteresting, terrible, Goudas out there. Even in the Netherlands, the saying goes that Gouda is what the farmers sell at market, and boerenkaas (BOOR-en-cahs) is what they eat. Fortunately, boerenkaas has made its way stateside as well, and there are now several local farms producing top-quality stuff that would make the perfect partner to your beer, sauvignon blanc, or lighter-bodied, fruit-forward reds.
Marieke Penterman and her husband Rolf grew up on dairy farms in the Netherlands and are the founders of Holland’s Family Farm in Thorp, WI. Marieke also shares her name with their line of artisanal Goudas. In the Netherlands, there are legal restrictions on how many head of cattle and how much land a dairy farm can own (it is a small country after all), and so the couple moved to Wisconsin to start a dairy farm big enough to match their dreams. Since, they have received several awards from all sorts of different sources for both their matured Goudas, as well as their flavored Goudas, like the ones mentioned above.
Their matured Gouda, like the one we carry at Pastoral, is semi-firm in texture, with loads of complexity due to both the use of raw, rather than pasteurized, milk and the attention to detail paid by Marieke, Rolf, and their team. It smells brightly lactic with some lingering notes of grass and still-baking bread. Its flavors are strongly reminiscent of custard with some citric notes and slight grassiness. There’s a bit of yogurt-y sourness, and even some flavors that remind me of a warm tortilla (the tortilla adds to the sensation of eating a bean and cheese burrito when you have the Smoked Cumin Gouda).
Marieke and Rolf’s boerenkaas Goudas are perhaps the best known in this area but they are far from the only ones doing it. Over in the small town of Oskaloosa, Iowa (unsurprisingly just outside the town of Pella, which is known for its Dutch heritage) are a pair of brothers who are producing some beautiful, traditionally-made boerenkaas to rival anything I ever had growing up. Mike and Jason Bandstra started Frisian Farms with just 10 Holstein calves and have since grown the herd to 80 head of dairy cattle. Jason also owns a nearby grain farm so that the brothers have complete control over what the cows eat, even when they’re not grazing on the brothers’ pastureland. Mike joined the team at Frisian Farms after a stint with Horizon Organic Dairy (you may be familiar with their milk and yogurt) where he learned quite a bit about hormone and antibiotic-free, organic dairy production.
Together, the brothers produce a matured Gouda that is simply beautiful. They are able to get an astounding complexity and depth of flavor into their cheese considering that they pasteurize the milk that they use, and are even able to preserve some of the color that comes naturally with milk from grass-fed cows. The scent of the cheese is reminiscent to Marieke while being a bit milder. The cheese follows suit in its flavors. Where Marieke can have yogurt-sourness, Frisian is bursting with hints of fruit, nuts, and cream.
These Midwestern cheeses share similar textures, but their flavors illustrate the wide variety available within farmstead Goudas, even in the same age range, just based on the differences in diet and location. Where Marieke is great with a hoppy beer, Frisian would be much happier alongside something with a maltier flavor profile. On a very broad scale, think ale for Marieke, and lager for Frisian. That’s far from the only use for these Goudas though, as they also make for great cheese plates, sandwiches, and cheeseburgers. In fact, Holland’s Family Farm and Frisian Farms both have whole sections of their website dedicated to recipes and entertaining suggestions. Check ‘em out!