In Amsterdam recently I entered a specialist cheese shop (and believe me there are hundreds there, each one offering more splendid, rounded golden-hued merchandise than the last).
Of course I know all about mature gouda, but I admit to ignorance about most Dutch cheese – I soon found out that Beemster is a type of Gouda.
Beemster is named after the oldest polder in The Netherlands – a polder (I had to look it up) being a piece of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea and protected by dykes. Gijs Dankers, of Beemster, told me that Old Beemster’s very particular, slightly spicy, slightly salty, slightly creamy taste comes from the mix of grasses growing on sea-clay on these reclaimed North Sea meadows which lie four metres below sea level. In spite of the saltiness of the land, Beemster contains 20% less salt than other Dutch cheeses.
In addition to the grazing land, the very particular taste of Beemster comes partly from the hand-stirring of the curds, and partly from the different temperatures and humidities of the conditions in which it is aged (other cheesemakers try hard to ensure that these remain constant). It’s matured on boards made of seasoned wood which also contribute to the flavour.
The cooperative (the CONO) which produces the milk (Beemster is made from cows’ milk) and makes the cheese comprises just 475 farmers – the smallest in The Netherlands.
There are three other ages of Beemster, young matured, matured, extra matured, but loving my two year old Gouda as I do, I plumped without hesitation for Old Beemster ‘Extra aged, XO’ – aged for 26 months) which can take the heat of a grill but also has slightly crunchy salt crystals when eaten at room temperature. The older cheeses have white dots – crystallised protein – which are a good demonstration of a successful aging process.
There are also other Beemster cheeses made out of goats’ milk, or flavoured with smoke for example.
Try not to keep your Beemster in the fridge and keep it wrapped in waxed or baking paper. Allow it to breathe before eating.
The Dutch often put it in sandwiches, but I enjoyed simply nibbling it nude as it were, perhaps with a glass of cold, dry sherry, a robust red, a port, or, in the summer, a cold beer (try a Brand Saison). And it would also go well as part of a lunch with a warm sunset-inspired cabbage salad, some smoked ham, and some freshly baked nutty, seedy bread.