Gouda, one of the world's most popular cheeses, has been made for close to 1,000 years in Holland, and is now made across the globe! Historical records show that this delicious cheese has been in production since the 12th century. Gouda takes it's name from the town of Gouda (pronounced 'how-dah' in Dutch) which is also the site of the most important market where local cheesemakers would come to have their cheeses weighed, graded, and taxed.
Gouda is almost instantly recognizable for its brightly colored waxed rind. The waxing of the rinds was a Dutch innovation that allowed the cheeses to age longer, made them more durable for transport, and made them more eye-catching and distinctive for consumers. Because they are coated in wax, wheels of Gouda lose less moisture and weight over the course of their aging (anywhere from a few months to upwards of 5 years!) and make them creamier and almost fudgy when extra aged.
Gouda cheese can be made from cow's milk, goat's milk, or sheep's milk, though cow's milk Gouda is the most common. The flavor of Gouda cheese changes greatly with age. Young Gouda cheese is mild, smooth, buttery, and creamy - the perfect thing to round out a sandwich or mac and cheese. Aged Gouda is dense, firm, and full of crystalline crunchy bits (actually clusters of protein that form during the aging process) and has a toasted, sweet, almost butterscotch-y, dulce de leche flavor profile.
In nerdy technical terms, the thing that makes Gouda different from all other cheeses is the fact that during the cheesemaking process a portion of the whey is drained off and replaced with hot water. This slows down the acidification process and means that once the wheels are aged, the cheese will turn out sweeter as opposed to sharp and acidic. The process of removing whey and adding water is referred to as 'washing the curd' by cheesemakers.
When the Dutch East India Company was formed, Gouda took off on a global scale. Because it was a durable, long-aged, low-moisture cheese, it could be shipped on boats across the globe and delivered anywhere the Dutch sailed to. Today even in countries where there is very little domestic cheese production, you're likely to find some version of Gouda or Edam on the supermarket shelves! The spice trade also had a great impact on the production of Gouda - the addition of cumin and other spice blends to wheels of Gouda cheese has been commonplace since the 17th century.
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