Don't forget your Alkmaar and Holland souvenirs

Souvenirs

As well as gift tokens and excursion tickets you can also order all kinds of products (Alkmaar and cheesemarket related) from the VVV webshop.

The history of cheese

Cheese has been produced in the Netherlands since prehistorical times. The provinces of Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, and Friesland were best suited for dairy farming because of their wet soil. Until the nineteenth century, cheese was produced on farms; farmers specialised in dairying in order to supply city inhabitants.

From the Middle Ages, Dutch cheese was shipped abroad, and during the Golden Age, the Netherlands had a reputation as a country of cheese. A quality mark for Dutch cheese was established; the correct percentage of fat in cheese was particularly noted. This has applied since 1913.

The Dutch Dairy Bureau deals with the promotion of Dutch cheese. A logo was designed especially for this, depicting a girl in traditional costume. The girl in this costume was also used in real life: from 1961, she was named Frau Antje in Germany. From that day on, Frau Antje has been a celebrity, appearing in advertising campaigns and at important events.

It is clear that the Netherlands evolved into one of the largest cheese-producing countries in Europe. Over 674,000 kilos are produced and cheese is exported to 130 countries, mostly to Germany despite the fact that Germany is Europe’s largest cheese-producing country (about 1.85 million metric tons).

The ages

New: matured for 4 weeks
Semi-matured: matured for 8 weeks
Matured:  matured for 4 months
Extra matured:  matured for 7 months
Fully mature cheese: matured for 10 months
Very aged: matured for 1 year or longer

Types of cheese

Gouda cheese

The Netherlands’ most famous and important type of cheese. It has a round and flat form, and weighs about 12 kilos.

Edam cheese 

The well-known spherical cheese, weighing 1.7 kilos.  Abroad,  this cheese is known for its red wrapper.

Leiden cheese

Cumin cheese; also referred to as “pitjeskaas” for its added  cumin seed.

Dutch cheese with holes

Flattened oval cheese with a round top, usually of the Maaslander or Leerdammer brand. The holes are caused by  bacteria in the cheese.

Frisian clove cheese

Firmly pressed cheese made of skimmed milk with cumin and  cloves. 

Herb cheese 

Cheese with non-traditional herbs such as mustard, onion, parsley, basil, nettle, or pepper.

Goat’s and sheep’s cheese

Spicy, white cheese of goat’s or sheep’s milk.

Smoked cheese 

Often in a sausage-like form with a brown rind. Currently,  smoke flavouring is added to the dairy, but it used to be actually smoked.

Cheese spread 

A spreadable type of cheese as a result of the adding of butterfat, which is available in various variations and flavours. The melted product is heated, after which it has long storage life.

Hard and soft cheese

Most types of cheese in the Netherlands come within the category of “hard cheese” or “sliceable cheese”. This is connected to the water content in cheese, and its duration to mature. Hard cheese, Emmenthal from Switzerland or Parmesan from Italy, is extremely difficult to slice and consists of 56% water maximum as a result of the long maturation. Gouda and Edam are “sliceable cheeses” and contain about 54 to 63% of water. Soft cheese has matured a short period of time and is creamy. It consists of more than 67% water, examples are Camembert and Brie.

Spring cheese

During the days when cheese was produced on farms, there was a distinct difference in quality between cheese produced in summer or in winter. If produced in winter, it was referred to as “winter cheese”; cows did not eat fresh grass resulting in milk and cheese of poorer quality. Cheese lovers looked forward to spring when cows could graze on the fresh spring grass. The first fresh milk from cows was used for making cheese. After maturing for four weeks, spring cheese was ready for consumption. Today, the quality of cheese is close to equal all year round, but the taste of spring cheese can still be distinguished: it is particularly fresh, mild, and mellow. In early June, the arrival of the first spring cheese is celebrated on “Graskaasdag” (spring cheese day) on the Alkmaar cheese market. It is combined with various events and performances on the market. The first batch of spring cheese is sold by auction, the proceeds of which go to a good cause.

From cow to cheese

Making cheese starts with cows in the pasture. The Dutch black spotted cow is very popular worldwide. There are about 1.5 million of them in the Netherlands. The province of Noord-Holland has mainly black spotted cows, they produce more milk than brown spotted cows, which have more muscle and meat.

The grass cows eat (graze) is transmuted into milk in their four stomachs. Producing cheese involves concentrating the major part of solid substances in milk (proteins, fat, and minerals), which are separated from liquid. The production of one kilo of Gouda cheese requires about ten litres of milk. A cow produces about twenty litres of milk per day, obtained via the milking machine and stored in a cooled tank. Tank lorries collect milk from the farmers and take it to the factory.

In the factory, milk is first pasteurised, meaning that it is heated to eliminate bacteria. Then, lactic acids and coagulants are added: lactic acids ensure good taste and longer storage life, and coagulants causes the solid substances, milk proteins and milk fat to coagulate, causing the milk to thicken.

In a round tank, the thick milk is cut into small white grains, also referred to as “curd”. This is the first stage of cheese. The remaining liquid is called “whey”, which is used in drinks such as Taksi. Curd is pressed into a tank, moulding the cheese into its form, and draining liquid away. The Rijkskaasmerk is printed in the cheese: this mark stands for quality and states the date and place where the cheese was produced. After several hours, the cheese is immersed in a bath with salt water (brine bath). The salt soaks into the cheese, making it firm, tasteful, and ensuring long storage life.

After the brine bath, the cheese is transported to the cheese warehouse where it matures for at least another four weeks. Cheese matures at a temperature of 12-15 degrees Celsius, during which it is regularly turned to maintain its shape. Cheese comes with a plastic coating to prevent mould and dehydration.

Cheesefarms in and around Alkmaar

There are about 21 cheese factories in the Netherlands, which are not open to private persons as a result of strict regulations by the Food Inspection Department. The Campina and Cono cheese producers supply the Alkmaar cheese market. And there are over 600 cheese farms producing cheese according to traditional methods. In some of them, visitors can make their own cheese.

Cheese farms in the Alkmaar area which are open to visitors:

Kaasboerderij Zeilzicht, Westdijk 15 1847 LH  Zuidschermer, Tel. +31 (0)72- 5044340

Kaasboerderij De Franschman, Herenweg 5 1861 PA  Bergen, Tel. +31 (0)72- 5818246

Schapenkaasmakerij De Schapenstreek, De Gouw 57a 1614 MB Lutjebroek, Tel. +31 (0)228-517546

Alida Hoeve, Zeddeweg 11131 CW  Volendam, Tel. +31 (0)299-365830

Simone Hoeve, Wagenweg 2 1145 PW Katwoude/Volendam, Tel. +31 (0)299-365828

Catharina Hoeve, Zeilenmakerspad 5 1509 BZ  Zaandam, Tel. +31 (0)75-6215820

Jacobs Hoeve, Hoogedijk 8 1145 PM  Katwoude

CSD Agrarische Excursies, Aurora 42 1716 DP Opmeer, Tel. +31 (0)226-357245

Geitenboerderij Schouten, Laanweg 5 1847 LM Zuidschermer, Tel. +31 (0)72-5044517

Berkhout Boerenkaas, Gouwe 1b 1718 LJ Hoogwoud, Tel. +31 (0)229-592220

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