Planet Cheese is a weekly blog devoted to everything cheese: products, people, places, news, and views. James Beard Award-winning journalist Janet Fletcher writes Planet Cheese from her home in Napa Valley. Janet is the author of Cheese & Wine, Cheese & Beer, and The Cheese Course and an occasional contributor to culture. Visit janetfletcher.com to sign up for Planet Cheese and view Janet’s current schedule of cheese appreciation classes.
Even dinner guests who tell me they don’t like goat cheese tend to devour the goat Gouda I serve. “This is goat cheese??” they’ll say, astonished by how sweet, silky and mellow it is. Yay! Another convert. How can you not love a cheese that tastes like it’s halfway down the path to candy? A fine goat Gouda like Brabander deserves to be loved by everybody, not just people with cow’s milk allergies. Dutch rock-star retailer Betty Koster oversees the long aging, so no wonder it’s fabulous. Grab your cheese plate and a jar of fig jam and get to know one of The Netherlands’ tastiest exports.
Koster and her husband, Martin, own Fromagerie L’Amuse, a retail shop near Amsterdam. But in the U.S., we know her (and bless her) for exporting the amazing L’Amuse Gouda, a cow’s milk cheese whose affinage she directs. Brabander is, in a sense, its goat’s milk sibling. Koster selects three-week-old wheels from a cooperative in Brabant, in southern Holland; then the 20-pound cheeses are transferred to a climate-controlled facility and matured by her methods, which differ a bit from traditional procedures. She prefers a higher aging temperature and a thin polymer coating for more breathability. Other Gouda producers apply more layers of coating to prevent moisture loss (that’s money evaporating) and external mold.
By Dutch law, Gouda is a cow’s milk cheese, but that regulation is largely ignored. The Dutch have been making goat cheese since the 1820s, Koster says, but on a minuscule scale and mostly in poor communities. (Goats are cheaper to maintain than cows.) Goat Gouda got a boost in the 1980s when the government instituted a cow’s milk quota. Coupled with the mysterious modern rise in cow’s milk allergies, the quota prompted Dutch cheesemakers to ramp up goat cheese production.
Even so, goat Gouda still accounts for only three percent of the country’s annual Gouda output (more than a billion pounds). And Brabander is a mere sliver of that.
Matured for six to nine months, the cheese develops a firm ivory interior with some of those wonderful crunchy bits. (They’re protein crystals.) A thin slice shaved with a cheese plane smells like cooked milk sugar or dulce de leche, the goat’s milk caramel. Its creamy sweetness is balanced by acidity and just the right amount of salt. Like a sea-salt caramel, it creates that dance of salt and sweet on your tongue that makes you want more.
The Dutch eat Gouda all day long: for breakfast, as a snack, or in the grilled ham and cheese sandwich known as a Tosti. But Brabander is intriguing enough for the cheese board, where Koster suggests pairing it with honey, dates, walnuts, fig tapenade or apricot jam. To drink,“beer is fantastic,” Koster wrote me in an e-mail. (Agreed. Choose something malty.) As for wine, she suggests white. Her final beverage recommendation surprised me. “Tea of course,” wrote Koster. “Green tea with jasmine or an oolong.”
Look for Brabander at these retailers.