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Gouda, Edam And Other Washed Curd Cheese

The Original Washed Curd Cheeses

Volume 126, No. 29, Friday, January 25  2002

Gouda and Edam. For me these are the original washed curd cheeses; they differ from the American cheeses such as Monterey Jack and Colby, which often use the same terms to define them. They also demonstrate how a different approach to cheesemaking can produce a wonderful cheese with different and unique body characteristics.
Washed curd cheeses have a sweet body, because they are sweet in their physical characteristics. Sweet being a term cheese makers use to describe the body of a cheese with good flex and will not break readily when a plug is taken and bent end to end. More on cheesemaking and grading terminology later. However, these cheeses, because of any hint of acidity, are often perceived on the palate as sweet also. 
The aspect of production that makes the Dutch cheeses unique and different is that the heat added to the curds and whey is added not through the vat jacket, but directly in the form of water. As you may well expect this has an effect on the finished cheese and affects the 
cheese in the following ways. 
Washed curd cheeses are typically mild in flavor, stable and slow to age over time (compared to many other cheeses), sweet in body and texture, frequently with small eyes. They also have distinct functional attributes such as melt characteristics.
Gouda and Edam are two of the classic named cheese which originated in Holland but the process was adopted quite widely in other European countries for the manufacture of cheese such as Havarti, Danbo, Swedish Fontina and many others. Not all the washed cheeses are pressed, some lightly and some like Edam and Gouda the most but, compared to Cheddar they are pressed much more lightly. They can be pressed more lightly as they are in the hoop during the period that would be the equivalent of the matting phase for Cheddar, unlike Cheddar, which is salted first and requires more pressure and time to form it into a block. 
These cheeses were also well suited to rinded applications, because they form what I call perfect rind: close knit and chemically tight, they were easy to maintain on shelves. By comparison Farmhouse Cheddars are a challenge, traditional Cheddar requires the use of cloth to achieve a tight outer surface which is left on the cheese.
When we think cheese we think Cheddar for most Americans. Comparing Gouda to Cheddar we find that it is generally cooked to lower temperatures. The removal of whey and the addition of water reduces the need for heat as a control mechanism; it is placed in a press-vat to initially form the piece of curd that will be placed in the mold. 
This interim step is responsible for the uniformity of many washed-curd cheeses; it is also responsible for many of the defects that are found in these cheeses. When this pre-pressing step is eliminated as in many Traditional Dutch Farmstead operations or the production of Havarti, open textured cheese is the result. 
Aside from the physical aspect, there is also an amazing effect on the chemistry, something that can only be explained as the result of science over the last 100 years. Adding water changes the acidity and pH of the curd throughout the process, affects the retention of enzymes such as chymosin (from rennet) and changes the mineral content of the cheese. 
Lactose levels are reduced during the process but end up being similar to most other natural cheese when finished, close to zero. These chemical changes are directly responsible for differences in body and texture.
But not only are these washed curd cheeses washed with water during the heating process, they are brine salted. This process may be the single most significant reason that they were not adopted by the US cheese industry. 
Brining has traditionally required a great deal of space, which adds to the capital cost of a cheese production facility. It also involves additional time and labor; brining a 20 pound wheel may take three to four days, a 3 pound ball shaped cheese about 30 hours. Cheddar is in the block in about five hours or less.
So for whatever reason the Dutch adopted their process, refined it and made it a significant production technique, the New World cheese makers, for what I believe to be reasons of practicality, rejected it. The technique is capable of producing excellent cheese but to readers I would like pose the following question: Why did the Dutch develop such a technique? 
I can only speculate. Was it because they were using wooden vats; lighting a fire under such a vessel would have obvious consequences. Or as with many other techniques was it an observed accident that produced a favorable result; most cheeses of this type require only a modest lift in temperature. Perhaps it was convenient, or efficient; hot water was available and so it was tried. 
I don’t know the answer; if you have an answer let me know and we can inform our readers. •

Neville McNaughton, president of Cheez Sorce, St. Louis, MO, has many years of experience manufacturing dairy products in both New Zealand and US. He has been a judge at several cheese competitions. Neville will be writing a regular column in Cheese Reporter and will take any questions regarding cheese manufacture. You can reach him at CheezSorce@sbcglobal.netjumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn. org


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