Simply put, there's no other cheese quite like it. And if this is stupefying, if your gouda hasn't made some kind of lasting impression, you may very well be unclear on the actual cheese of which we speak. So first, let's get on the same page about what Gouda really is. True, legendary, Great Gouda is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the red waxed disc you find in most large-scale supermarkets, which is an industrial, often American-made cheese inspired the original. Real gouda should produce a level of gustatory fulfillment quite unlike any other cheese. And for the record, if you want to sound like a professional, the correct pronunciation is "How-da."
There are several elements that make gouda unique. What tops the list, perhaps, is the development of dichotomous flavors, both sweet and savory, a harmonious-- if unexpected-- balance of salt and sugar. Excellent gouda should taste like salted caramel, creme caramel, whisky, or toasted nuts. In the best case, it will showcase all of these profiles.
This complexity of flavor comes partly from age and partly from make process. Generally speaking, goudas age for years, not months or weeks, like many other cheeses. It's not uncommon to find goudas aged for five years or more, in fact, and those wheels will be rock hard and uber-dense, peppered with white, crunchy patches of tyrosine. To temper its perishability, the curds of a gouda will always be both cooked and pressed, which ensures a dryer curd and a harder resulting cheese with tremendous aging potential.
There's one more essential step during the making of gouda. It's what creates the sugary, toffee-like flavors. It's what makes the cheese worthy of a post! Curds are washed with hot water, which lowers the acidity of the cheese and makes for a cheese that tastes so sweet. Don't confuse this washing of the curd with the washing of the rind, which results in an entirely different cheese.
A few Good(a) Examples
One of the best goudas for purchase in the States is Boerenkaas, which is a traditional, raw milk version still being produced in smaller quantities. Roomano, a five-year gouda, and Prima Donna, a much milder one, are easier to find, and still showcase flavors that will have you coming up with majestic declarations of your very own, alliterative or not.
(Image: Artisanal Cheese)