Cheese is a type of food made of milk. During the cheese-making process, the solids in the milk (proteins, fats and minerals) are separated from the liquid. Coagulant, lactic acid and salt are added during this process. In addition to the main ingredients, animal fat and protein, cheese contains a lot of calcium and vitamins A, B and D, which makes it very nutritious.
Cheese preparation in the Netherlands
The first step of cheese-making is adding coagulant and lactic acid to the milk. This makes the proteins, especially the casein, coagulate in the milk, which envelops the fat and liquid. This is how the curd is created. The lactic acid contains the lactic Lactococcus bacterium, the ‘spherical milk bacterium’. Coagulant is obtained from the stomach contents of young animals, e.g. calves, or made artificially.
The white, still soft curd that was pressed for only a few hours used to be eaten as a grass cheese in Amsterdam. Nowadays, grass cheese can hardly be found, because there are only a few grass cheese lovers left.
Then, by cutting and heating the curd, as much liquid as possible is squeezed from it. The drained fluid is called whey. They whey still contains valuable substances and is used in e.g. animal feed, but it is also applied in some soft drinks.
The curd is placed in a barrel and is further compressed. Subsequently, the curd is dipped in salt water (the so-called ‘brine bath’). The salt penetrating the cheese stimulates the crustation, the solidity, the taste and also the storage life. A factory cheese remains in the brine longer than a real farmhouse cheese; this causes the cheese to lose more fluid and become more salty. A normal Gouda factory cheese contains about 3.5% salt, a factory cheese with 25% less salt (Maaslander) about 2.5%, and a farmhouse cheese about 2%.
The cheese is still soft after the brine bath and has little taste. By letting the cheese mature, it becomes more solid. The maturation period can take anything from 4 weeks to 1 year. The longer the cheese matures, the more aromas (flavour) will be added. Most Dutch people have a distinct preference for cheese with a certain maturation period. There are various terms to indicate the maturation period of a cheese. These terms are listed in the below table.
Name maturation period
New cheese 3 weeks
Semi-matured cheese 8 – 10 weeks
Matured cheese 16 – 18 weeks
Extra matured cheese 7 – 8 months
Old cheese 10 – 12 months
Very old cheese 16 months or more
During the maturation process, holes are created in the cheese, which are caused by carbon dioxide gas given off by bacteria, as the gas forms bubbles in the cheese and when the bubbles “pop” holes are created. Usually you will not find many holes in Dutch cheese. Various kinds of cheese are prepared with the help of fungi that are blended through the cheese (blue-veined cheese) or applied on the crust (white rind cheese).
Even in prehistory cheese was made in the Netherlands. This is evident from recovered earthenware pots dating from ± 800 BC, which had holes in them where the curds leaked out of and could dry. In Julius Caesar’s book ‘De Bello Gallico’ from 57 BC, he wrote that people ate cheese in our regions. The provinces of North Holland, South Holland and Friesland are best-suited for keeping dairy cattle because of the wet soil. Even in the Middle Ages, Dutch cheese was transported abroad. The Netherlands came to be known abroad as ‘cheese country’ from the Dutch Golden Age (1600-1700) onward.
Cheese used to be commonly made by farmers’ wives. In the late 19th century, dairy factories arose. Especially in peat meadow areas in South Holland and Utrecht, there are still farmers who make cheese themselves. At the moment (2001) about 500 are left, including new cheese farms that were started in other provinces.
The Alkmaar weighhouse has functioned as a weighhouse for cheese since 1581. The cheese was often shipped in. The cheese carrier’s guild has existed since 1619. The Alkmaar cheese market is now just a tourist attraction.
Ten litres of milk produces one kilogram of (Gouda) cheese. In 2002, the Netherlands produced a total of 649 million kilograms of cheese, of which 498 million kg was exported, in particular to Germany (194), Belgium (57) and France (50). In 2001 the Dutch eat 14.6 kg of cheese per year per head of the population.
Varieties of cheese per type of milk
Cheese is in by far the most cases made of cow’s milk, but there is also cheese made of goat’s or sheep’s milk. Every cheese is different, but they are all based on the same principles.