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As a kid, I loved the Mini Babybel Gouda from Laughing Cow. You know, the soft, creamy, slightly nutty cheese that comes in the little red wax coating? They were an awesome snack that came with fun packaging, but truth be told, they're a little...bland.
A couple of decades later, I discovered that not all Gouda is created equal. Indeed, the Netherlands—Gouda's traditional home—classifies their Gouda all the way from fresh Graskaas all the way to long-matured overjarig. It's the cheeses on the older end of the spectrum—those aged for a year or longer—that really caught my attention.
You see, as cheese ages, a number of things happen. Despite its wax coating, Gouda slowly loses moisture over time. This moisture loss causes not only a hardening of its structure—older Goudas are crumbly while younger ones are creamy—but it also concentrates its flavor and saltiness. While a jong Gouda may have a slight nuttiness and mildly salty flavor, a well-aged hunk of vintage Gouda will have an intense nuttiness that rivals that of a good Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano. In fact, it can be used in much the same way, either eaten in jagged chunks broken off from the large wheel, or grated onto finished dishes (try it over asparagus).
And just like those other cheese, aged Gouda also develops the small, white, crunchy crystals of calcium lactate and ultra-savory tyrosine that crackle between your teeth when you bite into it, giving you sudden, umami-rich bursts of flavor.
So where does one go from there? How about to a completely different animal. It's not made from cow's milk, so the Polder Gold aged goat cheese from Henri Willig is technically not a true Gouda, but for all practical purposes, it's identical. It's produced via the same methods, comes with the same wax coating, and produces the same crunchy crystals, all with the distinct sour and grassy tang of goat's milk.
I discovered the cheese while on vacation in Amsterdam with my wife, but you can get it delivered anywhere in the world from the Henri Willig website.
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