Gouda is an aged cheese with a colorful, wax-coated rind and a flavor ranging from mildly sweet and buttery when young to intensely nutty and caramelized when aged for a year or more. It's widely available as an artisan cheese suitable for cheese plates and as a younger cheese that slices and melts well for sandwiches.
- Made from: Cow's milk
- Country of origin: Netherlands
- Texture: Semi-firm when young, becoming very hard and crystalline as it ages
- Color: Pale yellow to deep orange
What Is Gouda Cheese?
Gouda is synonymous with the Netherlands, where this style of cheese dates back to the 1500s and possibly as early as the 12th century. In fact, Gouda is named after the town of Gouda, home to one of the country's bustling cheese markets.
Between the 1500s and 1700s, the Dutch became masters of cheesemaking by innovating techniques to create durable, long-lasting cheeses like Gouda and Edam. Thanks to their low moisture content and rinds treated with saffron-infused vinegar, they were long-lasting, durable, and easily recognizable from their colorful exteriors.
Unlike many iconic European cheeses, Gouda does not have a protected designation of origin (PDO). These regulations define criteria around the production of cheeses that may be sold under a specific label. Because of this, the quality of gouda varies widely, with both commodity cheeses and small-scale artisan wheels marketed under the name. A good rule of thumb is to look for Goudas produced in the Netherlands, which tend to be of higher quality.
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 comes 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.
How Gouda Cheese Is Made
Raw or pasteurized milk is heated, then cultures are added to begin fermentation and acidify the milk. Next, rennet is added to coagulate the milk into a gel-like curd. The curds are cut to expel whey and reduce moisture.
Two key characteristics of Gouda are that it's sweet-tasting and low in moisture, and the next steps create these attributes. The curds are scalded with hot water and stirred; these techniques expel moisture from the curds. Then the whey is rinsed away, taking much of the lactose in the cheese with it. Because that lactose won't break down into lactic acid during the aging process, the result is a sweeter-tasting cheese.
The curds are then hooped into large circular molds and pressed to remove even more moisture. The wheels are then soaked in a salt brine before a thin coating of food-grade wax is applied, giving the cheese its signature shiny, colorful exterior. The wheels are then placed in the cheese cave to age for anywhere from a few months to several years. High-quality, long-aged wheels may develop crystals of tyrosine, an amino acid, or calcium lactate, a byproduct of the breakdown of lactose into lactic acid.
Some varieties of Gouda have a pale yellow or off-white color, while others have a deep golden or orange color. The orange hue comes from the addition of annatto to the milk before the cheese is made, similar to cheeses like Cheddar and Colby. Annatto is the seed from the achiote plant and is used as a natural food coloring. When you see small holes in Gouda, that's because lactic bacteria cultures that produce CO2 are added to the milk. The CO2 produces bubbles (gas) that create little holes, or eyes, in the cheese.
Types of Gouda
The main difference in styles of Gouda is age. Young Gouda is typically softer, milder in flavor, springy to the touch, and lighter in color. Gouda aged one year or more often has a deeper color, a hard, crystalline texture, and more concentrated flavors and aromas of toffee, brown butter, and toasted nuts.
The longer Gouda is 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.
Swap in mild, semi-firm melting cheeses like Edam, Monterey Jack, Havarti, deli Muenster, and mild Cheddar for young Gouda in sandwiches, casseroles, and other baked dishes. 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. But, go ahead and use Gouda anywhere you might use a mild white or yellow cheddar.
Substitutes for aged Gouda include hard, strong-flavored cheeses, like Parmesan, Gruyère, and other aged Alpine cheeses, and Dry Jack.
Both young and aged Gouda work well for specific applications. Young Gouda is ideal for slicing and melting in sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, casseroles, frittatas, quiches, and other baked dishes.
Aged Gouda, on the other hand, does not melt well because it's lower in moisture. However, because its flavor is much stronger, aged Gouda excels in other areas, such as grating it over pasta dishes like you would Parmesan or Pecorino. Both styles can be enjoyed as part of a cheeseboard.
Store Gouda in its original packaging in the cheese drawer or crisper to protect it from the drying air of your refrigerator. After opening, rewrap any leftover Gouda in cheese paper. The cheese can be stored in your refrigerator for two to three weeks.
If you don't have cheese paper, wrap the cheese tightly in a piece of parchment paper, then place it in a plastic sandwich bag. Fold the bag around the cheese but don't seal it. This holds in moisture while allowing for air exchange.
Young Gouda may be wrapped tightly in plastic, sealed in a zip-top bag, and frozen for up to two months. The cheese can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator before using; however, its texture may become crumbly and unappetizing, so it's recommended to use it in baked dishes or other applications where the cheese will be melted. Aged Gouda should not be frozen.
- Caramelized Onion and Gouda Macaroni & Cheese
- Chicken Roulade Stuffed With Smoked Bacon, Spinach & Gouda
- Breakfast Grilled Cheese With Avocado and Sriracha
- Fried Cheese Balls With Guava Dipping Sauce
Can You Eat the Rind?
Young and aged Gouda is coated in an inedible wax rind. It should be trimmed and discarded.
However, other varieties—like smoked Gouda—have an edible, flavorful rind which you absolutely should enjoy. It will be quite clear which is which, as the rind on smoked Gouda are brownish, much thinner, and incredibly aromatic.
Jo Y, Benoist DM, Ameerally A, Drake MA. Sensory and chemical properties of Gouda cheese. Journal of Dairy Science. 2018;101(3):1967-1989.doi:10.3168/jds.2017-13637.