The History of Gouda
For many centuries the making of most traditional cheese was a lesson in how folks made do with what they had at hand.
For Gouda, originally produced in the south of Holland, there is a story (actually there are many stories) that goes back in time to the twelfth century or earlier, and perhaps helps to explain why different cheeses evolved with such different character in different parts of the world. I have heard variations on this from a couple of sources and it makes sense from what I have seen.
The question is, "Why did the dutch use hot water additions to heat their curds, while others used fire under a large kettle to do this?"
We begin by taking and comparing two cheeses:
Larger alpine style cheeses made in the Alps of central Europe
- Large Gouda style cheeses made in the lowlands of the Dutch countryside
They are both large cheeses with a residual sweetness remaining in the aged cheese and can be aged for long periods, but that is where the similarities end, both in process and final texture and flavor.
The main difference is obvious as soon as you enter the traditional cheese room:
In Holland, there is a large wooden vat
In the mountains, there is a large metal kettle with a fire nearby
Why metal and why wood?
It has been pointed out to me that the mines were in the mountains and so they extracted the ores there and developed the skills to work with iron and copper, whereas in the lowlands of todays Holland, iron and copper were not a local resource but wood was and they simply worked with that. The mineral resources would have had to travel large distances, very expensive in those days.
To expand upon this, the metal vats could take the fire and thus heat the curds in the vat to dry them out, the wood certainly could not so they heated water and added it to curds in the wooden vat to dry them out.
Functional differences between the two processes were:
For the Alpine cheese higher heating temperature (easy to do over a hot fire) selected for different natural bacteria in the milk which selectively converted the lactose, leaving more residual sweetness.
In the dutch lowlands, the scald temperatures were kept much lower due to the limitations of the hot water in wooden vats. This selected for different bacteria in the milk but ones that could consume all of the sugars if left to it BUT the vats were only so big, so in order to add hot water to the vat, they needed to remove some whey. In removing this whey they were also removing some of the food for the bacteria and thus slowed the lactose conversion process way down
So what we have here are two very different geographic regions where their goal is to make a cheese that can be aged for some time but by using two very different methods.
The different styles both tend to have a supple cheese body and are commonly sweeter style cheese.
So we ask ourselves, as with many other techniques, was it an accident that produced a favorable result or was it well though out beforehand. I tend to think the former was the way these different cheeses evolved.
Again, one of my favorite expressions "same same but different".
If you have ever tasted and compared a well aged Gouda style such as their BoerenKaas or a well aged Alpine style such as a Beaufort or Etivaz I sure you can appreciate this.