Il gouda artigianale stravecchio è uno dei più grandi formaggi europei. Grande in senso letterale, perché le forme pesano 20 chili, e grande per la qualità, la storia e il sapere preservato da generazioni di casari.

Checking artisanal gouda cheese
Gouda being weighed in the historic "Waag"

Ever since the Middle Ages, Gouda has been traditionally made only in the summer using raw milk from the cows grazing on the peat meadows of the polders in the “Green Heart,” the rural area between the cities of Leiden, Utrecht and Dordrech.

A view of the rural area where artisanal gouda is produced
A dutch landscape, where gouda is produced
A glass decoration showing the production of gouda cheese

The cheese is named after the town of Gouda, home, in centuries past, to a central cheese market. The “Waag,” built in 1688, was the building where the Gouda cheeses were weighed. On Thursday mornings, from April to the end of August, it still hosts a market of traditional cheeses.

The "Waag" entrance, the building where gouda used to be weighed

At the end of the 19th century, most cheese production switched from individual cheesemakers to large dairy cooperatives, which began adopting industrial procedures to make the cheese, which was in great demand for export. Fortunately, a few small producers managed to hold out, preserving the traditions of real Gouda.

Some of the producers of artisanal gouda

Authentic Gouda must age for a minimum of 12 months, but reaches its optimal quality after 24 months. Some cheeses can be aged for as long as four years. One of the unusual aspects of Gouda production is that the curd is washed. After cutting, the curds are heated and rinsed with hot water. This gives the Gouda a balanced sweetness, limiting any acidity and bitterness in the longest-aged cheeses. To start the curdling process, the cheesemakers use starters made in the dairy using milk from the day before.

Cheese production phases
Cheese production phases

The curd is then packed into traditional large wooden molds lined with linen cloths.

Cheese production phases
Pressing the cheese

The Gouda found on the market tends to be a banal cheese, produced industrially in large blocks or small balls,  covered in a thick layer of plastic and found on supermarket shelves around the world. Though 250 cheesemakers are still making artisanal, raw-milk Gouda, most of them in the Gouda region, their output represents only around 1% of the total production of Dutch cheese.

Small producers selling artisanal gouda

The survival of their businesses is under threat from expanding urban areas and the combination of a series of factors: increasing production costs, low cheese prices and competition from industrial imitations, made with pasteurized milk, sold for lower prices and increasingly common on the national and international market. 

Tasting artisanal Gouda

Slow Food has launched an Aged Artisanal Gouda Presidium, involving some producers who use milk from their own Holstein-Friesian cows. The project is trying to offer an alternative to the current marketing system, helping the Presidium producers to promote their cheese and working to highlight its quality and healthiness and the value of their traditional cheesemaking knowledge.


Credits: Story

Photos — Archivio Slow Food

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