Often, when it comes time to research my weekly cheese, I really have to dig. Many of the cheeses I discover are relatively unknown, or obscure. But not today’s cheese, this one is a little rock star. Pages and pages of information on the internet seem to clarify that Beemster XO-now known as Beemster Extra Aged, is a very special-and perhaps more importantly, ubiquitous cheese.
I have been kind of ignoring Beemster for a while-because it is so damn ubiquitous. It just seems to show up in every cheese case I see, saying “pick me! Eat me! I’m so yummy!” And that kind of extreme extraversion in a cheese I find a little off-putting, but what can I say, finally I have given in.
Beemster XO (you can check out the Beemster website here ) is a Dutch Gouda cheese made of pasteurized cow’s milk. It is not a super aged Gouda-despite the name-I have sampled Gouda over 4 years of age. This one is matured for 26 months, making it Beemster’s oldest cheese. According to the Beemster folks, the reason they sell at the 26 age point is to keep the cheese still a little moist and cuttable, while retaining that famous butter-scotchy aged Gouda taste. 26 months seems to be the tipping point-we shall see!
Beemster is actually a municipality in North Holland and it is also the name of the first “polder” in the Netherlands-which is land reclaimed from a lake bottom after the water was removed via windmills (seriously, can this get more fantastic?) The Beemster Polder was dried during the period 1609 through 1612. This famous Dutch ‘Polder’ was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999, making this my first Unesco World Heritage site terroir based cheese, hurrah! It’s unique terroir is the result of the clay soil left behind in the polder- nutrient and mineral rich,with a distinctive slate blue colour. Apparently, this terroir yields grasses more fertile and thicker and longer than others, giving the milk produced here an especially sweet and creamy quality.
The cheese makers at Beemster are all local residents of the polder, and the majority have learned their cheesemaking techniques from previous generations. The top-secret recipe for Beemster has been handed down since 1901 (I do love a top-secret cheese recipe, bonus marks for this!) Beemster is run by a co-op of farm families, and the co-op itself was formed in 1901. Prior to this, cheese here was made by hand by the farmers’ wives, each in their own kitchens. Forming the co-op streamlined production, ensured consistency, and made sense financially. Over the years, this small co-op has stood by its original (top-secret) recipe.