Gouda is perhaps the most famous Dutch cheese export, with millions of wheels of the cheese being sent all over the world. Gouda is also made in many other nations, often by Dutch farmers who like to carry on the tradition of Gouda making. Gouda is often used on dessert platters, sandwiches, and at wine tastings as a palate cleanser. Depending on the age of the cheese, Gouda can be mild or strong, and is usually labeled accordingly.
Gouda grows sharper as it ages, starting out very creamy and mild. If allowed to age, the cheese will grow more complex, much more astringent, and almost cheddar like. Gouda is a semi firm cheese, and usually comes wrapped in a wax rind. The color ranges from white to creamy yellow, with aged cheeses usually being darker, while the flesh of the cheese is sometimes pocked with small holes. Gouda is also often smoked by dairy producers, which complicates the flavor in a way which many consumers find enjoyable. Some Gouda producers also make flavored cheeses, adding herbs, pepper, jalapenos, and other ingredients to the cheese while it is being manufactured.
One type of Gouda, noord-hollandse gouda, has a protected designation origin, meaning that cheese labeled thusly must actually be produced in the Netherlands by a licensed dairy which undergoes regular inspection by the European Union. This protected cheese is a crucial part of Dutch culinary heritage, and tends to be of a very high and consistent quality. It is usually sold very young, and has a distinct creamy quality which is superb on crackers.
To make Gouda, milk is mixed with rennet and starter cultures, often imported from the Netherlands. Most dairies use pasteurized milk to make Gouda, although not always. This mixture is allowed to sit until curds start to form, and is then drained to release whey. The curds are cut, often in several passes, to release more whey and hot water is added to facilitate the process. If the cheese is to be flavored, flavorings are added before the curds are scooped into cheese forms and pressed.
After the cheese has spent several days in the mold, being turned periodically to ensure even drainage, it is placed in a brining tank which mildly salts the cheese and encourages formation of a rind. Then the cheese is aged before being wrapped and sent to market. Depending on the market, the cheese will be sent out young, at around two months, or aged for up to one year.