First things first: Real goudas — that is, cheeses that are made in Holland, aged for years, and that taste sweet, nutty, and complex — are worth seeking out. They're different than those red-wax, semi-soft pucks, often of the smoked variety. I've had the fortune of witnessing many people taste real gouda for the first time. These are very grateful people.
If you're among them, perhaps you may be the ideal candidate for this week's cheese feature, which presumes that gouda enlightenment has already been reached. For while anyone can acknowledge the tastiness of the two cheeses presented herewith, I have a feeling that a greater appreciation would be had with a prior understanding of the cheese upon which they're modeled.
So for those of you who love your aged gouda but might want to try something new, try seeking out goudas made not with cow milk but rather with sheep or goat milk. Both variations are infinitely more complex, thanks to the surprisingly successful marriage of both sheep and goat milk with the cheesemaking method that makes a gouda a gouda.
In short, during gouda making, fresh curd is washed with warm water, which raises pH levels and increases those sweet and caramelly flavors that make goudas so great. Goudas taste sweet because they're low in acid and because they're aged long enough for those mellow, milky-sweet flavors to develop into noble cheeses, full of flavors redolent of nuts, whisky, and burnt sugar.
When of the sheep or goat milk variety, goudas turn even more sweet and flavorful, like a more layered version of itself. Imagine the difference between a fresh cow milk cheese — take a simple farmer's cheese, for example, which tastes lean, milky, and mild — and a fresh goat or sheep milk cheese, which is also mild and milky, but which has distinct, added flavors that accompany those milk types specifically: perhaps a bit of a tangy quality from the goat milk, or a sheepy-sweet kind of gaminess from the sheep milk. Cheeses made from sheep or goat milk tend — to me, at least — to have dynamic qualities that can be attributed to the actual milk, while cow milk cheeses are dynamic and amazing in their own right, but have less that can be associated to the actual flavor of cow milk, perhaps because cow milk itself is pretty innocuous.
So now imagine a sheep or goat milk gouda, amped up in all of its glory because of the unique flavors of the milk. They're sweet like cow milk goudas, and nutty, too. But there's just a little added something that you're bound to like if you're already partial to cow milk gouda. Sheep or goat milk goudas are great for entertaining, too. They're different enough to appeal to the cheese geeks, and accessible enough to the guests who might typically gravitate towards more familiar flavors.
Sheep & Goat Goudas to Try
• Ewephoria: A pasteurized sheep milk gouda from Holland, actually crafted for the American market and our sweeter sensibilities. Ewephoria got its name for a reason: it's that good. Sweet like sugar, with satisfyingly crunchy bits of amino acid clusters, this cheese may be the ultimate cheese for dessert or alongside a nightcap of bourbon.
• Midnight Moon: The brainchild of Mary Keehn, of Humboldt Fog and Cypress Grove fame, this gouda is made of pasteurized goat milk. It has a more subtle sweetness and is endlessly snackable. Makes an excellent melter, too.
Neither of these should be hard to find. They're readily available at most cheese shops, and around the country at Whole Foods markets, Murray's Cheese, and igourmet.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an Assistant TV Chef and food stylist on The Martha Stewart Show.
Related: Gouda the Great: The Cheesemonger
(Image: Flickr user TinyTall licensed for use under Creative Commons.)