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Speaking of fabulous things and the passing of time- today I am eating a three-year old cheese-which is kind of alarming and thrilling to me simultaneously. Doesn’t three-year old anything edible sound a little dangerous? I’m not sure if you should even eat three-year old canned food-wouldn’t it just be bulgey and full of horrible bacteria?
This is part of the true wonder of cheese…the affinage. Affinage is the aging of the cheese, and is integral to the preservation, and also the flavour-it’s finishing school for cheese. Some producers of cheese do their own aging-if they are lucky enough to have their own caves, grottos or dungeons-but more often, the cheese is finished by an affineur in a different location. Similarly, I received my husband as a young man from his family, fresh and newly formed, and then matured him off site-although no caves were used in his case!
Affinage can last anywhere from a couple of months to a number of years. At about the 9 month mark, the ammonia smell of the soft and washed rind cheese is totally gone. At about 10 months, the tyrosine crystals of protein may emerge if the cheese calls for it. The moulds introduced to the cheese or naturally occurring in the cave also factor into the taste, as does the humidity of the room, and the type of container holding the cheese. If wood, what kind of wood? How often is the cheese “flipped?” Is a brine or wash applied? If so, how often?
Gouda cheese in its mature form spends an awful lot of time lounging around in affinage before making it to your cheese plate. Gouda is named after the Dutch city of Gouda. Alas, this name is not protected thus cheese falsely called Gouda is made and eaten just about everywhere. However, the named “Gouda Holland” is protected by the European Commission, so look for that combination if you want the real thing.
Gouda is a cow cheese made from pasteurized milk. Gouda for export comes in two varieties, red or yellow wax coated-which means it’s young, aged between 1-6 months, and black wax coated-that’s the good stuff, so don’t be fooled. People have been making cheese in the Holland area since prehistoric times-as early as 200 BC. A thriving cheese market started around the 1100’s and the Dutch started cheese exports in the 1600’s. Holland is currently the world’s largest exporter of cheese, producing over 630 million kilograms of cheese per year and exporting at least 500 million of these-mostly Gouda and Edam.
My large slice of 3 year Vintage Gouda Holland is a little bit of a mystery. I can’t discern who the maker is, and that’s a shame. That being said it is a “Gouda Holland” so it is using the protected name, thus it must be the real thing. It’s also been aged three years, and that’s an awful lot of time to dedicate to a cheese in affinage, so someone once loved this mystery cheese. It’s like finding a beautiful and well-trained pure bred dog at the SPCA-you don’t know the history-but you know that someone loved it and put a lot of care and resources into at some point. It’s dark yellow in colour-that’s the annatto and the aging, and it’s just speckled with tyrosine crystals. My mouth is watering. The cheese smells quite intensely, like something mysterious and slightly dangerous, it’s three-year old milk, people! I want to eat it. I’m scared to eat it. This is the fundamental human paradox.
Ohhhh, don’t you wish you were me right now? You should if you don’t. This isn’t cheese, this is heaven. It’s completely otherworldly. The taste is sublime, intense, like salty butterscotch on crack. The texture is outrageous, it’s crumbly, it’s sticky, it’s crunchy. It’s everything you could want, and then more. It’s actually hitting all the taste points at once. It is quite a sweet cheese, which is unexpected, there’s just a tiny undertaste of bitter, and a delicious wave of salt. There’s also a real tang, and an overwhelming sense of yum-that’s “umami” all wrapped up in this freaking unbelievable texture. I love it, but it’s even a little intense for me. This one’s a nibbler, a slice of this might put me into some sort of seizure or
something. This is it. This is the one to beat for me. 3 year vintage gouda Holland, I’m your number one fan.