Gouda is a bright yellow, semi-hard cow's milk cheese with a mild flavor, originating in the Netherlands.
- Milk source: Cow
- Country of origin: Netherlands
- Texture: semi-hard, springy when young; hard, crystallized as it ages
- Age: Four weeks to several years
- Color: bright yellow
- Rind: waxed
What is Gouda Cheese?
Gouda has its roots in 12th century Holland, but is now produced around the world. Unlike certain protected foods like Parmigiano Reggiano, for example, the word "gouda" is not restricted only to cheeses that are produced in certain region.
Gouda can be aged anywhere from four weeks to a year, or longer—even five years. Younger gouda is mild in flavor and springy to the touch. The longer it's aged, the more intense the cheese becomes; harder and denser in texture with bold flavors that can be sharp, salty, sweet, nutty and caramelized all at once. The texture also changes, becoming hard and crumbly and really dense. Aged versions of the cheese have tiny protein crystals that make the cheese a little bit crunchy.
The regions of the Netherlands known for producing gouda are North and South Holland, North Brabant and Friesland. North and South Holland have lush, grassy pastures that produce especially rich, high-fat cow's milk. This milk is used for making what is considered the best gouda in the Netherlands.
After the milk has thickened into curds, the curds are rinsed with warm water. The temperature of the water, even by a few degrees, can affect the flavor of the cheese. The water thoroughly removes whey from the curds and along with it, lactose (milk) sugar. Removing the lactose means the bacteria has nothing left to feed on and will stop producing lactic acid. Less lactic acid means the cheese will have a sweeter flavor.
Because the curds are rinsed to remove lactose and because many types of gouda are aged for so long, gouda tends to have less lactose than other types of cheese.
Gouda is colored orange by adding the natural plant-based colorants annatto or carotene. When you see small holes in Gouda, that's from the lactic bacteria cultures which produce CO2 are added to the milk. The CO2 produces bubbles (gas) that creates little holes, or eyes, in the cheese.
Boerenkaas is the Dutch word that's equivalent to "farmstead" cheese in the United States. That is, cheese made from the milk of animals who live on the same farm where the cheese is made. However, the word Boerenkaas also goes one step further, requiring that all cheese labeled as Boerenkaas must also be made with raw (unpasteurized) milk. Only a small percentage of Dutch Gouda can be called Boerenkaas.
The rest of the Gouda made in the Netherlands come from dairy cooperatives who pool milk from many farms to make cheese. One well-known Dutch co-op is Beemster, which sells its Gouda across the United States.
Because gouda (at least young gouda) tends to be mild in flavor, it's easier to substitute for than other funky, bolder cheeses.
Edam and mild cheddar are both common substitutes, with Edam being preferable because it is also a Dutch cheese.
If you do substitute cheddar for gouda in a recipe, avoid sharp cheddar, as it has a bit too much of a bite to really work well as a dupe.
Because of gouda's mild flavor, it's very forgiving to cook with and its uses are versatile. It melts well, making it great for macaroni and cheese, pizzas, and paninis. It's also a great complement to a cheese board, especially aged gouda which is nuttier and sweeter in flavor. Feel free to use it wherever you would use a mild cheddar—really, everywhere.
Gouda is a semi-hard cheese, so it still has a good bit of moisture in it that you want to preserve. However, if you wrap it in plastic wrap or just chuck it in a food storage bag, that's not ideal either. The cheese really needs to breathe and have some air circulation—it's recommended to wrap it in parchment paper and then put it in a food storage bag or a food storage container in the fridge. Gouda does not freeze well.