A brief history of Dutch cheese a.k.a. kaas

A brief history of Dutch cheese a.k.a. kaas

It’s everywhere, and not only the Gouda or Edam variety you might be familiar with at home. Dutch cheese is unique, so it is no wonder that it is one of the country’s most important exports. Cheese is, of course, not exclusive to the Netherlands. So, when did the Dutch start making cheese, and how did it become so popular?

Which cheeses are Dutch?

There are many varieties of cheese in the Netherlands, however, often when people talk about Dutch cheese they refer to Gouda or Edam. Yet, other varieties such as Beemster, Graskaas, Leerdammer, Leyden, Limburger, Maaslander, Maasdam, Mimolette, Nagelkaas, Parrano, Roomano, Prima Donna and Vlaskaas are also Dutch.

How is Dutch cheese made?

Cheese is made from the milk of an animal, most often a cow. Around 10 litres of milk are needed to make 1 kilo of Dutch Gouda cheese. The milk is then heated before being put into a centrifuge so that the fat content can be altered. After this process, the milk is stored in a cool place and then heated once again - this time to 72 degrees Celsius, otherwise known as pasteurisation. This process kills all harmful bacteria in the milk.

After pasteurisation, a starter culture and rennet are added to the milk to convert the lactose into lactic acid and curdle it so that solids form. The solids are called curds and these are subsequently separated from the liquid whey and put into moulds.

The cheese is then put into a brine solution to preserve it, after which a plastic layer is added to prevent dehydration and mould forming on the outside of the cheese. Once this step is completed, the cheese is put onto wooden shelves to mature and develop its tasty flavour.

When was the first Dutch cheese made?

It is difficult to know when the first Dutch cheese was made, but archaeologists have found cheese-making equipment dating back to 200 B.C. A few Dutch provinces in particular produced great quantities of cheese, which some put down to the damp soil in these areas, making them suitable for rearing cattle. These provinces were Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland and Friesland.

In the Middle Ages, cheese took a central position in Dutch life and was so popular that in 1100 A.D, at the toll in Koblenz, Germany, Dutch bargemen even paid in cheese.

It is often thought that Dutch cheeses are named after the region in which they are made, however, this is not correct. Cheeses received their names because of the markets at which they were historically traded.

Haarlem was the first to receive the right to hold a cheese market in 1266. Leiden followed in 1303, and then came Oudewater in 1326 and Alkmaar in 1365. The Alkmaar cheese market remains hugely popular for locals and tourists alike.

Before dairy production factories were introduced, dairy farmers made cheese from cow’s milk at their farms. This was still the case at the end of the 19th century, but creameries were also being established and receiving attention.

The first creamery was founded in 1883 and many followed. Creameries allowed for the production of cheese to be more controlled and efficient. Nevertheless, it is still possible to purchase cheese made at farms, even though most cheese is made at factories nowadays.

How did Dutch cheese become so popular?

Although Dutch cheese was already being exported in the Middle Ages, it was in the 1600s, The Dutch Golden Age, that this particular item of Dutch food really became popular and the Netherlands became known for it.

The Netherlands is the world’s biggest exporter of cheese, and rightly so. The Dutch produce around 650.000.000 kilos of cheese a year, two-thirds they export to other countries.

Which Dutch cheese is your favourite?

Mina Solanki


Mina Solanki

Completed her Master's degree at the University of Groningen and worked as a translator before joining IamExpat. She loves to read and has a particular interest in Greek mythology. In...

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