It’s Saturday morning. Five gallons of fresh raw milk are almost done ripening, and I’m getting ready to add rennet to coagulate this batch of milk as part of the process of making my fourth wheel of Gouda style cheese. I have two wheels aging in my basement right now (wheels #1 and #3). There’s just one wedge left of wheel #2 in my refrigerator. Cheese doesn’t last long in this house!
Those of you who follow my blog might know a little about me by now. My husband is Dutch. We met in Leiden while I was in my junior year of college, participating in a study abroad semester. He was pursuing his degree at Leiden University. Perhaps it wasn’t love at first sight…. I’d say the sighting was the third. Anyway, to make a long story short and to save you the details of a long distance relationship, I’ll summarize by saying everything worked out just fine and when I graduated from college, I moved directly to Leiden and lived there for two years while my soon-to-be husband finished his studies.
If you know anything at all about the Netherlands, you know that cheese is a big part of their culture. You would be hard pressed to find a Dutch refrigerator that did not contain a large wedge (or two or three) of delicious cheese. The culture of cheese there is very different from here in the United States. There is much in our country that exists in one of two extremes–politics, good vs. evil, weather (at least in NY!), the haves vs. the have nots– and cheese. Cheese can be a cheap processed additive, disgusting and void of nutritious value–think Velveeta, powered cheese in your box of mac n’ cheese, or that yellowish molten substance dripping over your fast food. In the opposite extreme, cheese is a specialty item, an expensive and often pretentious luxury, purchased in tiny wedges, a proudly proclaimed food import. Of course, you always have your middle ground–the ubiquitous cheddar–those unnatural-looking blocks of cheese in the dairy section of the supermarket.
I miss the realness of cheese in Holland. I miss the variety, the flavors, the humongous wheels stacked high in the supermarket, the independent cheese stores, or at the street market each week. I miss placing my order and watching them cut the wedge with precision, the skillful rocking of a giant double-handle cheese knife. Most of all, I miss the taste. The imported Gouda in our supermarkets, waxed in red, is just not the same.
Making cheese has been on my to-do list for quite some time. Occasionally, over the years, we treated ourselves to a large wheel of yellow-waxed Dutch cheese, direct from an importer. We would share with friends and family; I would sell packages of homemade bread paired with a wedge of freshly cut cheese; and naturally we would indulge ourselves, devoting a full refrigerator shelf to cheese.
My husband gave me a cheese making starter kit for Christmas last year, with everything I would need to make a Gouda style cheese. I am adapting New England Cheesemaking Supply’s 5 lb. Gouda recipe, and so far I am quite pleased with myself. I followed the recipe exactly and was as giddy as a child on Christmas morning when I took my perfectly shaped cheese out of the final press. The minimum aging requirement is two months, and let me tell you that I counted down every single day until we could cut in and sample my creation.
Cheese making is quite a process and there are many steps involved in turning milk into a formed wheel ready for brining, then aging. There’s a lot of doing, and even more waiting. I’ve been typing here during the periods of waiting. Right now, my fourth cheese ever is undergoing its second press at 9 lbs. for 30 minutes. There will be three more presses at different pressures.
At first glance, it seems that many cheese recipes are the same. Many different kids of cheeses use the same culture that I’m using to make Gouda. For many, the process doesn’t differ all that much. Yet, when we think of the wide array of cheeses with vast differences in texture and flavor, the mystery of cheese making becomes very interesting. Even a slight variation at each phase of the process can yield different end results. Couple that with a range of aging times and the possibility of adding flavors to each cheese, and the concept of turning milk into cheese becomes exciting. I love many different kinds of cheeses, but my favorite is a plain young-medium aged Gouda cheese, what the Dutch call jong belegen. With a semi-hard texture, buttery and smooth, and a mild flavor, this cheese is perfect for slicing and eating on bread for breakfast or lunch. That’s my goal in cheese making.
My first three cheeses are good. I’m pleased with my results. But they’re not what I’m going for. They’re drier than my intended result, and their flavor for a cheese that’s only been aged 2-3 months is quite intense for that age. I’m working on modifying each step in the cheese making process to create a truer Gouda style cheese. Now I just need to wait 2-3 months longer before I can taste my achievement.