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The history of Dutch cheese

It’s not for no reason that cheese is one of the Netherlands most important exports. Indeed, Dutch cheese boasts an utterly unique flavour, has a lovely firm texture and is wonderfully creamy … just what cheese lovers in countries all over the world, from Germany, Belgium and France to Russia and the United States, are looking for! That Dutch cheese is unrivalled is hardly surprising – especially when you consider that the very first Dutch cheeses were made hundreds of years ago and that Dutch cheese makers have thus had centuries to perfect their products!

Dutch cheese

The origins of cheese

Of course, the manufacture of cheese is not exclusive to the Netherlands – in fact, a variety of nomadic tribes from Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia were already making cheese from milk more than six thousand years ago. At that time fresh milk was typically stored in flasks fashioned from pig or cow stomach, before leaving to ferment and transform into cheese.

Archaeological excavations reveal that cheese making was a practice in the Netherlands as early as 800 BC. The Dutch provinces of Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland and Friesland in particular, produced large quantities of cheese, arguably due to the suitability of their damp soil to rearing dairy cattle. Ancient writings also refer to these early cheese dairies located in the Low Countries, including the book, “Commentarii de Bello Gallico”, by famous Roman politician, general and writer, Julius Caesar.

Cheese production in the Netherlands

Whilst Dutch cheese is today largely manufactured in vast dairy plants, at the end of the nineteenth century most Dutch cheese was still produced on the farm by the dairy farmer himself. These dairy farmers sold their delicious homemade cheeses at Dutch cheese markets, including the celebrated cheese market in Alkmaar. Established in 1581, Alkmaar remains a showcase for some of the finest Dutch cheese and is an incredibly popular tourist attraction to boot.

Nowadays most Dutch cheese is factory produced, yet it is still possible to buy cheese direct from the farmer. This special type of Dutch cheese is known as ‘boerenkaas’ (farmhouse cheese) and is made from milk from the farm’s own cows. Thanks to its traditional preparation and unique ripening process, boerenkaas benefits from a highly distinctive flavour. Fine examples of quality Dutch farmhouse cheese include Beemster cheese and Boer ’n Trots. And, although Dutch cheese is usually made from cow’s milk, a few varieties are also prepared from goat’s milk, including the mouth-watering goat’s cheese made by exclusive Dutch label, Landana.

Dutch cheese facts

  • 10 litres of milk is required for the preparation of just 1 kilo of Gouda cheese.
  • In addition to fat and protein, Dutch cheese contains calcium and vitamins A, B and D.
  • Holland annually exports around 600 million kilos of cheese (predominantly Gouda and Edam) and is the fifth largest cheese producer in the world.
  • The average Dutch person enjoys some 17 kilos of cheese per year.
  • ‘Kaaskop’ (literally ‘cheese head) is an insulting term for Dutch people that was originally dreamt up by Napoleonic soldiers.

Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants.


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