Your guide to the delicious (and confusing) world of Dutch cheeses

Your guide to the delicious (and confusing) world of Dutch cheeses

Cheese would have to be the hardest-to-avoid foodstuff in the Netherlands. Not only are there the wide walls and fridges of cheese in every supermarket, but there are the endless stalls at farmers' and organic markets, entire shops dedicated to enormous yellow wheels and finally, the famous cheese markets in Alkmaar, Edam and Hoorne. Here is your guide to all things Dutch cheese. 

A brief history of Dutch cheese

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

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

It is often thought that Dutch cheeses are named after the region in which they are made, but 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.

cheese wheels at alkmaar cheese market

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.

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 of which they export to other countries.

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 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 the 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.

Your guide to Dutch cheeses

From Gouda to geiten, old to young, 30+ to 48+, here’s everything you need to know about the delicious and confusing world of cheese in the Netherlands.

dutch cheese shop

Image credit: ColorMaker /

Ageing of Dutch cheeses

The different kinds of cheese that you’ll find in Dutch shops (especially Gouda) are all provided with labels that signify how long the cheese has been aged. There are six types, all dependent on the age of the cheese. Each kind has a slightly different taste and texture, and is therefore perfect for different recipes or uses. 

Jong cheese

The “youngest” Dutch cheese is jonge kaas, which is aged for just four weeks. Jonge kaas is very soft and mild.

Jong belegen cheese

Jong belegen cheese is aged for eight to 10 weeks and has a stronger flavour. 

Belegen cheese

Belegen cheese is older still, aged for between 16 and 28 weeks. At this stage, it hits that sweet spot that makes it good sandwich cheese: soft enough not to crumble on the bread but old enough to have a good flavour.

Extra belegen cheese

Extra belegen cheese is aged for a minimum of seven months and is a harder, crumblier cheese with a much stronger flavour - also nice in sandwiches, but it pairs even better with mustard or a beer.

Oud cheese

Oude kaas (old cheese) is aged for 10 to 12 months and is perfect for those who like their cheese to taste stronger. As the cheese ages, it develops a caramel sweetness and has a slight crunchiness from salt-like calcium lactate or tyrosine crystals that form in older cheeses.

Overjarige kaas

For the kind of tasty, crumbly cheese that is delicious on a cheese platter with mustard or that sweet apple syrup the Dutch sometimes serve, try the overjarige kaas. Aged for 18 months or more, overjarige kaas is the strongest kind of cheese in the Netherlands. 

30+, 48+ and 50+

Many cheeses in the Netherlands also bear numbers on their packaging. These can seem confusing, but they’re not. They merely refer to the fat content in the cheese. 

A 30+ cheese is leaner than a 50+ cheese, although many might find that it is also much milder in flavour. 48+ is probably the most commonly found kind of cheese, especially in Dutch supermarkets, and the number means that 48 percent of the dry matter of the cheese consists of fats. 

What these numbers mean in terms of flavour and texture also depends on which cheese you favour; a 50+ old cheese contains more fat than a 50+ young cheese, because the old cheese is drier and crumblier.

Types of Dutch cheese

Here are some of the most famous types of Dutch cheese:


Without a doubt, the Netherlands’ (and the world’s) favourite cheese is Gouda - although there isn’t just one kind of Gouda. In fact, there are six different kinds of Gouda cheese that you’ll be able to find in just about any Dutch supermarket or cheese shop, all vastly different in taste. Gouda is the most popular cheese in the Netherlands, with over half of all cheese production devoted to churning out its enormous yellow wheels.

It is also one of the oldest recorded cheeses in the world still made today: the first mention of Gouda cheese dates from 1184. It is not named after the city of Gouda because it is produced there, but because it has historically been traded there.

gouda cheese


The Netherlands’ second most popular cheese is Edam, making up nearly a third of all cheese production. It’s commonly recognisable abroad due to its red paraffin coating, which due to its excellent preservation qualities made it the world's most popular cheese from the 14th to 18th centuries.

Like Gouda, it is a semi-hard cheese that intensifies in flavour and hardness as it ages. It also has a significantly lower fat content than many other traditional cheeses and a mild, salty taste that appeals to almost everyone.

edam cheese


Maasdam is the next most popular cheese, making up 15 percent of production. This is the one with the large holes, created by bacteria that release gases during the maturation process. It has a slightly sweet, nutty taste.

It was created in 1984 in imitation of the Swiss-style Emmental and originally trademarked as Leerdammer cheese, but now many companies produce it under the name Maasdam.

maasdam cheese

Dutch goat’s cheese (geitenkaas)

Dutch goat’s cheese - known as geitenkaas - varies greatly from the traditional goat cheese you’d find in other countries across Europe. It’s generally a lot harder, resembling the texture of other popular Dutch cheeses, and doesn’t have that distinctly creamy texture that you’d find in chèvre from France. Some versions are smellier; the semi-hard Gouda style for example, but the most common is the fresh, soft variety.


Strange-looking cheeses

Another very popular (and very delicious) type of Dutch cheese is Leidse kaas, the cumin-spiced cheese. Traditional farm-made Leidse kaas is a Protected Designation of Origin named Boeren-Leidse met sleutels and its wax bears an impression of a set of keys, the city of Leiden's coat of arms.

leidse kaas

There are many, many other varieties of cheeses with interesting additions, like Frisian clove cheese, or ones flavoured with herbs such as chives or parsley. There are also the more unusual varieties using mustard, pepper, onions or nettles.

A visit to any tourist cheese shop will reveal many new and strange flavours, even in new colours, such as the green basil-flavoured ones.

colourful dutch cheeses

Smelly cheeses

The Dutch don’t go in for smelly cheese as much as some others (like the French). The closest is probably Hervekaas, made on the Dutch / Belgian / Luxembourg border. Also known as Limburger, it was first made during the 19th century in the historical Duchy of Limburg, now divided between Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. It has an orangey-yellow rind and is especially known for smelling rather like body odour.

limburger cheese

Then there’s the smoked cheese, which is made by melting then smoking normal cheese and reconstituting it into a long, tube shape, like a sausage, with a distinctive brown rind. It smells smoky, obviously, and is very tasty.

There are also some rather delicious Gouda cheeses with lovely blue veins, if you are a fan of blue cheese. They are rich and sweet, but not as salty as a French Roquefort.

Where to buy the best Dutch cheese 

There are plenty of places where you can stock up on all your favourite Dutch cheeses. Of course, supermarkets in the Netherlands all offer a variety of options, but if you’re looking for a wider variety of high-quality cheeses you should take a trip to your local kaaswinkel (cheese shop) or street market.

Alternatively, for the full-on traditional Dutch experience, visit one of the Netherlands’ iconic cheese markets. The most famous ones can be found in Alkmaar, Gouda, and Edam, where you’ll be treated to old-fashioned horse-led carts, traditional clothing, and massive wheels of cheese. 

alkmaar cheese market

Aside from the traditional markets across various Dutch cities, there are also a number of other hotspots for self-proclaimed cheese lovers. Check out our pick of seven tasty spots for anyone obsessed with cheese!

The smelly world of cheese from the Netherlands

All in all, there is an enormous variety of tastes to delight cheese-lovers in the Netherlands. Even if you will never come to regard boterham met kaas as the most delicious food in the world, you can at least talk about it with expertise.

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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