Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

The Netherlands is one of the largest exporters of cheese globally. As a result, you can buy Dutch cheese all over the world. That is remarkable for such a small country. So why are the Dutch producing so much cheese?

The Dutch produce so much cheese out of necessity since only grass grows well at their low-lying soggy farmland below sea level. The Dutch produce almost 900 million kg of cheese annually, most of which is exported. The value of Dutch dairy exports is almost € 8,0 bln (US$ 9,5 bln) annually.

But that is not all there is to know about Dutch cheese. Dutch cheese production is an excellent example of how the Dutch made the very best of the farmland they had to work with. They had no other option.

The Dutch must have done something right if this soggy farmland turned into a global dairy export powerhouse…..!

In Which Part Of The Netherlands Is Cheese Produced?

All popular Dutch cheeses are produced in the western part of The Netherlands. If you click on the numbers in the chart below, you can see where these popular cheese varieties are produced. This western part of The Netherlands is below sea level, and water needs to be drained out continuously from these low-lying areas.

The Dutch farmland below sea level is fertile yet relatively soggy, and crops like wheat and corn do not grow well on this soggy farmland. Grass, however, grows very well on soggy farmland. Grass also consumes a lot of water, which is a bonus because it makes the farmland drier and firmer.

That is why the western polders in The Netherlands are covered with grass and occupied by cows. Farming in this western part of the country is almost exclusively focused on milk production by cows. Thus, the Dutch have optimally used their low-lying soggy farmland conditions and turned a disadvantage into an advantage.

Farming in this western part of The Netherlands has become very intensive, with almost 1,6 million cows producing milk in its green meadows. That is a lot of cows if you realize that the Netherlands has only 17 million inhabitants.

A cow produces around 7000 liters of milk annually. Therefore, the annual milk production of these 1,6 million cows in The Netherlands is a staggering 11,2 billion liters of milk.

You need ten liters of milk to produce one kilogram of cheese. Therefore, the annual cheese production of 900 million kilograms requires approximately 9 billion liters of milk. Hence, the majority of milk production in The Netherlands is used to produce cheese.

The annual Dutch cheese production is almost exclusively exported, and many visitors take some Dutch cheese back home with them as a souvenir.

The Netherlands is one of the global top exporters of dairy products like cheese, butter, and milk. The value of these dairy exports exceeded Euro 7,7 billion in 2019.

How Is Dutch Cheese Produced?

If you want to understand the traditional cheese production process, I recommend watching the excellent Youtube video below. It is a video about cheese production on a 100-year old farm near Gouda in The Netherlands.

This video has already been watched more than 12 million times in a little more than one year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImpROVueIcE&t=16s

In less than 10 minutes, you will get some excellent insight into how Dutch cheese is produced traditionally.

What Are Popular Dutch Cheeses?

Cheese is made out of milk, and its taste depends largely on the quality of the milk. Natural factors such as climate, quality of the local soil, and the quality of the grass used for feeding the cows play a major role in determining the milk’s quality and taste and, therefore, the cheese.

For example, the meadows in North Holland are surrounded by sea. Therefore the cows in North Holland produce richer, creamier milk than elsewhere in The Netherlands.

Dutch cheeses are often named after cities or regions. If cheese is named after a city, it is because this used to have a cheese market. For example, Gouda cheese is named after Gouda, with a long-standing history of a flourishing cheese market.

The most popular Dutch cheeses are:

Gouda

  • Gouda cheese has the shape of a wheel, weighs between 1-15 kg, and is a fragrant, tasty cheese. Gouda cheese is available in different stages of aging: young, mature, old.

Gouda North-Holland

  • Gouda North-Holland is richer and creamier at a young age than regular Gouda cheese. At an older age, it gets a more intense flavor and becomes sweeter and fruitier. North-Holland Gouda is also less salty and a bit more crumbling than regular Gouda.

Old Amsterdam

  • Old Amsterdam is a Gouda North-Holland cheese variety. The name “Old Amsterdam” is chosen for marketing reasons because Amsterdam is a well-known name.

Edam

  • Edammer cheese can be recognized by its typical round shape, red color, and fairly small size. In addition, Edammer cheese has a very accessible and creamy taste and does hardly smell.

Leerdam

  • The taste of Leerdammer cheese resembles that of Emmenthaler cheese, although Leerdammer cheese has a somewhat rounder taste. Leerdammer cheese has mild, sweet, and nutty flavors, which increase with aging.

Beemster

  • Beemster cheese has a typical soft and delicate taste. The more Beemster cheese ages, the saltier it becomes. Beemster cheese can age for almost a year.

Friese nagelkaas

  • Frisian nagelkaas is a cheese made from skimmed milk to which cumin and cloves are added. The cheese is firm, flattened, and has sharp corners.

Leidse Kaas

  • Leiden cheese is a type of cheese with cumin. The texture of Leiden cheese is firm because it contains less fat than most other Dutch cheeses.

How Much Cheese Do The Dutch Eat Themselves?

On average, the Dutch eat 20 kilograms of cheese per person annually.

That sounds like a lot of cheese-eating, but 20 kg is just enough to secure a top 10 position of cheese-eating countries in Europe. It does not look likely that cheese consumption is why the Dutch are among the world’s tallest people. The large majority of Dutch cheese is exported all over the world.

The Dutch usually eat their own cheese as slices on their sandwiches or as snacks during happy hours.

Where Can I Visit A Dutch Cheese Market?

There are still 5 cheese markets in the Netherlands. These five Dutch cheese markets occur in Gouda, Alkmaar, Edam, Hoorn, and Woerden once every week during summertime.

At the markets of Gouda and Woerden, real genuine trading in cheese still takes place. The other three cheese markets are tourist attractions but worth visiting to experience a bit of Dutch culture with a long history.

Where Can I Visit A Cheese Museum?

You can also visit various cheese museums in The Netherlands

  • Gouda Cheese Museum
  • Alkmaar Cheese Museum

Where Can I Visit A Traditional Cheese Farm?

A fun option is to visit a cheese farm and see how cheese is actually produced

  • Visit a cheese farm in the neighborhood of Amsterdam.
  • Excellent overview with links to websites of 10 cheese farms in the neighborhood of Gouda
  • Visit the website of Cheese Valley to discover more options to visit cheese farms in the neighborhood of Gouda and Woerden.

By: Pim/ netherlandsinsiders.com

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