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Dutch Gouda cheese is famous the world over for its rich, unique flavor and smooth texture. Originally from the Dutch village that gave the cheese its name, the cheese market in Gouda is one of the last commercial cheese markets in the Netherlands. Gouda is classified as a semihard cheese and is typically made from pasteurized cow’s milk, although some artisan cheese makers use sheep or goat’s milk, particularly for cheeses that will be aged for a greater length of time.
There are seven types of Dutch Gouda, ranging from cheese that has been aged for as little as one month to two or more years. Graskaas is a creamy, young Gouda that is ready to eat in a matter of weeks. At the other end of the spectrum is Overjarig, with a hard, golden interior and richly layered flavor that aficionados describe as salty as well as somewhat reminiscent of toffee.
Between the newest Graskaas and the elderly Overjarig are Dutch Gouda cheeses classified as Jong, Jong belegen, Belegen, Extra belegen, and Oud. These cheeses are each progressively closer to the texture of grating cheese than the previous classification. Hard-core Gouda fans are often unwilling to even taste the younger cheeses, claiming that it takes maturity to bring out the complexity of flavors that make Gouda world renowned. Novices can identify soft, younger Dutch Gouda cheese by their yellow, orange, or red wax rinds, while the more mature and harder varieties are contained in a black wax covering.
Most consumers in North America have more than likely only tasted commercially produced, young Gouda cheese. These are smoother and much less flavorful than the artisan cheeses still made in the Netherlands. Artisan Dutch Gouda cheeses might be made from raw milk as well as pasteurized. Some cheese makers add herbs, seasonings, and nuts for a range of flavors.
In the Netherlands and elsewhere, cooks find aged Gouda adda richness to sauces, soups, and pasta sauces. The flavor of the cheese depends not only upon how long it has been aged and the herbs, seasonings, or other types of flavor enhancers that have been added but also on whether the wheels have been smoked.
The Dutch prefer to drink beer when nibbling on less mature Gouda. Those in the middle of the age range taste best when paired with a fruity Riesling or Chenin Blanc. Well-matured Dutch Gouda cheese is best with aged Chardonnay or a rich Merlot or Shiraz because those wines are deeply flavored and stand up well to the complexity of the cheese.