Beemster is a Gouda made exclusively in the quiet, canal lined pastures of North Holland, 20 feet below sea level. Master’s Choice Beemster, above, is one of several varieties, aged for a minimum of 12 months.
A Single-Region Dutch Gouda
CAPSULE REPORT: Beemster is a type of Gouda, special because it comes exclusively from a single region in Holland and the X-O version is aged for a lengthy 26 months, to a divine, butterscotch-like flavor. This is Page 1 of a two-page article. Click on the black links below to visit Page 2.
Beemster is an artisan Dutch cheese, a North Holland Dutch Gouda that is crafted exclusively in the Beemster Polder (a polder is a low tract of land enclosed by embankments with no connection to outside water sources), located 20 feet below sea level in North Holland. This Dutch polder was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. The cows graze only on pesticide-free pastures that contain rare blue sea clay. This clay contains minerals that give the milk a sweeter and softer milkfat, giving Beemster cheeses a softer and creamier texture than other Dutch cheeses. The name is trademarked: Beemster can only be made in the Beemster Polder.
About Beemster Cheese
Beemster cheese is made by traditional cheese-making methods, using a “secret recipe” known only to the Beemster farmers and Master Cheesemakers. Great attention is paid to the cheese’s quality, starting with the treatment of the cows. Beemster and Ben & Jerry’s Europe have joined forces to create the Caring Dairy Initiative, in which participating farmers allow their cows to graze freely in the pastures from spring through fall, resulting in enhanced milk quality, including such benefits as increased omega-6’s and 7’s and other naturally occurring nutritional elements. Caring Dairy allows the cows to have more natural grazing conditions, and there is a required minimum number of days that the cows must be let outside to pasture.
Photo: Caring Dairy cows enjoying a rest in the pasture.
The recipe for Beemster was developed in 1901. Beemster cheeses typically have 20% less salt than other Dutch cheeses. Beemster is made in several varieties:
- Beemster Lite. Beemster Lite is aged for five months. While the complexity of the cheese has not yet developed, it is mild and delicious on sandwiches.
- Beemster Classic. The unique sea clay soil of the North Holland pastures gives the cow’s milk a sweet flavor and soft consistency. This special milk allows Beemster cheese to remain creamy as it ages for a minimum of 18 months on traditional wooden boards.
- Beemster Master’s Choice. This cheese gets an extra washing of curds, so it can mature for a longer time; the cheese is softer and creamier on the palate due to the extra washing. After at least a year of aging, the Master Cheesemaker selects the wheels that meet his standards, hence the name Master’s Choice.
Photo of Beemster Master’s Choice courtesy of
- Beemster X-O. The flavor starts out with hints of butterscotch that permeate the palate, followed by alternating waves of whiskey and pecan. It is extremely old cheese that is extremely good. Beemster X-O’s 26 months is a very long time in a world where even a dry Parmigiano-Romano is matured for two years. As a cheese matures, the flavors become more complex; moisture also evaporates, leaving the cheese crumbly and granular. Beemster’s unique milk source enables X-O (signifying Extra Old) to achieve one of the widest flavor ranges possible in only 26 months, yet still retaining its smooth and creamy taste. X-O can also be grated and used as an alternative to Parmesan. Learn more about Beemster cheeses and Caring Dairy at Beemster.us.
- Flavored Beemster Cheeses. To meet the growing demand for flavored cheeses, Beemster is now enhanced with a variety of spices and herbs: black pepper, cumin, garlic, fine herbs, mustard seed, nettles (slightly bitter green herbs) and wasabi. Except for the last ingredient, these are traditional additions to European cheeses. Wasabi has joined the group with the enthusiasm for sushi that has emerged over the past 20 years. Each flavor adds interesting depth to the cheese without dramatically changing its nature.
Photos of Beemster X-O, above, and
flavored with cumin, at right,
courtesy of iGourmet.com.
Food & Wine Pairings
Pair Beemster cheeses with your favorite sturdy dry white wines (Chardonnay stands up well) or sturdy reds made from Bordeaux grapes, or Valpolicella. The aged cheeses go well with rich, fruitier reds, rieslings or dessert wines. The aged Beemster X-O. with its complex flavors, should be paired with Port, sherry and dessert wines.
The Dutch enjoy darker breads, such as pumpernickel and rye, with their cheeses. For a main course, grate onto steamed vegetables, stuff ravioli, shave over pasta. For a dessert course or table cheese, add apples, cherries, Concord grapes, honeydew, pears and pineapple.
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