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Aged Gouda is a pale orange cheese traditionally made from cow’s milk that has a dry, crumbly texture and a distinctive sharp flavor. It is very similar to standard or smoked Gouda, but has a more pronounced taste and a much drier texture. It is commonly used for crumbling or grating over salads and soups, but can also be served on its own or alongside fruits, nuts, and crackers, or paired with fine wines or liqueurs.
Basic Taste Profile
There can be a lot of variance in what, exactly, aged Gouda tastes like, since a lot depends on the quality of milk that was used and how long the cheese had to age. Still, most people agree that is it has a slight butterscotch taste, and has both sweet and salty overtones. People who know cheeses very well can usually quickly identify even a small sample as Gouda, though aged versions tend to taste a lot different from younger, smoother versions. Standard Gouda is a soft cheese with a very mild flavor. Aging it adds a lot of depth, but also a lot of bite.
How the Cheese Is Made
Aged Gouda starts out as any other Gouda would, and is made through a complex process of culturing milk, straining out solids, and pressing curds. Cheeses made from free-ranging cows that eat grass and other greenery are usually naturally yellow in color, but many manufacturers augment this tint with a coloring agent known as annatto. This ensures a consistent look that doesn’t change based on cow diet or available nutrients.
Once the cheese has begun to form, it is pressed into rounded molds and left to drain for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. It is typically encased in wax as soon as it has solidified for preservation, and is then prepared for shipment or sale. Some Goudas are exposed to smoke at this point, which seals a unique flavor into the cheese. Others are simply packed up for immediate sale, while a final group is typically set aside for extended aging.
How the Aging Process Works
In the past, farmers and others aged finished cheeses in stone caves or in underground cellars — typically anywhere they could find that was dark and relatively cool. Things today tend to be a bit more scientific. It is still common to age cheese underground, but manufacturers typically design special cellars for this purpose that can be controlled in terms of precise temperature, relative humidity, and light penetration.
Gouda can be aged for anywhere from a few weeks to ten years or more. As the cheese sits, it forms calcium lactate crystals. These are byproducts of the lactic acid breakdown that happens naturally over time. The crystals are fine to eat, and provide the cheese with a unique crunch. In most cases, the longer the aging, the more crystals develop — and the more expensive and desirable the cheese becomes as a result.
Where to Find It
Aged Gouda is relatively common in most places, and can be found in supermarkets and specialty cheese shops around the world. At one point it was only available in the Netherlands, where it was first created. Artisanal farmers in the western town of Gouda are credited with pioneering the process, and the cheese takes its name from that town. The name is not “protected designation of origin,” however, which means that cheeses can be sold under the “Gouda” label no matter where they were actually made. The United States is actually one of the world’s biggest producers and exporters of aged Gouda.
What it Pairs With
There are many ways to enjoy this sort of aged cheese. Many people use it interchangeably with other hard cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, and will grate it over pastas and salads. It is often sliced and served on cheese platters alongside dried fruits, nuts, and toasted flat breads or crackers, too. People who eat it plain will often pair it with full-bodied beers and lagers or red wine. Sipping brandy or scotch while enjoying the cheese is also popular.
Storage and Shelf Life
Aged Gouda does not usually require refrigeration, though keeping it cool is recommended by most food safety experts. Unlike fresh cheeses, aged variations are not usually prone to quick spoilage. Just the same, keeping any unused portions under refrigeration will help them taste fresh for longer, and can also help discourage the growth of bacteria.