Your guide to the delicious (and confusing) world of 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.
The history of Dutch cheese
As one of the Netherlands’ key exports (alongside tulips of course), it’s unsurprising that the history of Dutch cheese stretches back hundreds of years. Archaeologists have discovered cheese-making equipment that dates back to the second century, but it seems as though the industry didn’t properly take off until the 11th century.
The popularity of this traditional Dutch food grew significantly in the 1600s, during the Dutch Golden Age, when the Netherlands became known internationally for its cheese. Nowadays, the country produces around 650 million kilograms of cheese every year.
An expat guide to cheese in the Netherlands
There are a number of things you should be aware of when it comes to figuring out your way through the world of Dutch cheeses.
Different kinds of Dutch cheese
One of the most popular types of cheese in the Netherlands is Edam, a semi-hard cheese that intensifies in flavour and hardness as it ages. It is easily recognisable by its bright red paraffin coating. Another beloved option is Maasdam, which is a nutty and holey cheese. Of course, there are also other slightly more obscure or artisanal kinds of cheese, such as Boerenkaas, Rookkaas, and Leidsekaas.
But 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.
Young cheese vs belegen vs old cheese
The different kinds of Gouda cheese that you’ll find in Dutch shops are all provided with labels that signify how long the cheese has been aged (AKA how old it is). Dutch cheeses have one of the following labels:
- Jonge kaas (young cheese) - four weeks old
- Jong belegen - eight to 10 weeks old
- Belegen (mature) - 16 to 18 weeks old
- Extra belegen - seven to eight months old
- Oude kaas (old cheese) - 10 to 12 months olf
- Overjarige kaas - 18+ months old
Each kind has a slightly different taste and texture, and is therefore perfect for different recipes or uses. Jonge kaas is very soft and mild but, as the cheese ages, it becomes stronger in flavour.
Jong belegen or belegen are perfect for sandwiches, whereas extra belegen or oude kaas - which are harder, crumblier cheeses with a much stronger flavour - are also nice in sandwiches, but pair well with mustard or a beer.
30+, 48+ and 50+: What do all the numbers mean?
Once you’ve managed to wrap your head around all the different kinds of cheese, you’re quickly confronted with another issue: the seemingly random numbers associated with each different type of cheese. Don’t feel too overwhelmed though! These numbers 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.
Dutch goat’s cheese
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.
The perfect Dutch cheese board
If you’re currently planning your next dinner party or borrel and are hoping to impress your friends and family, you might want to take some time and put together a delicious Dutch cheese board which will offer guests a taste of all the delicious cheeses on offer in the Netherlands.
In order to make sure you’ve got a little bit of everything, make sure to include examples of Dutch geitenkaas and a more obscure flavoured cheese, such as Leidsekaas or Fries herb cheese (Friesche kruidenkaas), alongside a more traditional Boerenkaas and an oude kaas.
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.
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!