Following in line with our April Cheese of the Month, Royaal, I bring you an in-depth look at the creamery that makes it–as well as a bunch of other delicious cheeses!
Beemster is a traditional cheese producer of a variety of quality Gouda cheeses. The Dutch company first officially started up in 1901 after a piece of land was reclaimed from underwater using canals, dykes, and windmills; this land is known as a polder. Being underwater for so long left behind a slate-blue clay soil, and though originally farmers wanted to grow crops on the Beemster Polder, this mineral-rich soil showed a more keen liking towards growing lush green grasses, ideal for the inevitable Beemster cows to graze on. With such a unique environment, Beemster cows produce a richer and sweeter milk, ultimately resulting in a richer and sweeter high-quality cheese.
Small family farmers, master cheesemakers, and happy cows are the fire behind the company’s delicious products. Learn a little bit more below from a short Q&A with one of Beemster’s own!
Which cheese would you consider your flagship cheese & why?
“Beemster Classic, also known as Aged, our 18-month aged Gouda is probably our flagship cheese. Beemster Classic has a signature Gouda flavor and texture. It’s a rich flavor, nutty and a touch sweet. The texture is firm and though aged for 18 months, still has a creaminess to it. … and then there’s the delightful little crunchy bits throughout. The tyrosine crystals in our Beemster Classic are a sign of expert cheesemaking and natural aging. Beemster Classic is also a terrific versatile cheese. I love to carve out rustic chunks of it for a cheese board and serve it with fig spread. It also slices well and is outstanding on sandwiches (grilled cheeses especially, of course!). It pairs well with apples, so also a terrific snack. So, as a flagship cheese, I would say that it appeals to a broad range of tastes, it’s full flavored, but not overpowering, the quality of our ingredients and craftsmanship are evident, and it’s just a simply delicious and versatile cheese!”
Could you tell us a little bit about what goes into Beemster cheeses?
With any food, the quality of the ingredients ultimately reflect in the finished product. We are very proud of the ingredients that go into Beemster cheese, starting first and foremost with our cows’ milk.
In an average day 1 cow will eat 110 pounds of grass, drink 33 gallons of water and produce 6-7 gallons of milk, yielding about 6 pounds of cheese. A wheel of Beemster Classic weighs 24 pounds, but that’s after aging, immediately following production the weight of 1 wheel is closer to 28 pounds.
Beemster cows are allowed to graze freely on the Beemster pastures for as long as is safe and healthy for them to do so. Keeping our animals healthy and happy is part of our mission. Artificial hormones are never used and only sick animals are treated under strict supervision by vets.
The quality of the starter culture and rennet used are also key ingredients, as well as the brine bath mentioned above. These steps in the cheesemaking process highlight our master cheesemakers’ craftsmanship. Our cheesemakers learn through apprenticeship, passing down the knowledge and techniques that have made Beemster since 1901.
Beemster cheeses then age on wooden planks in our historic stone warehouses, where they are turned and polished by hand, tasted and graded by our master cheesemakers.
It’s a labor of love and an art from the field to the wheel.
Anything new or upcoming to Beemster? Any changes to the creamery or methods?
Beemster has opened the world’s greenest dairy!
In addition to winning awards for sustainable architecture and production, the dairy also won a “Best Building of the Year” award as a building that brings iconic value to its environment and strengthens its identity. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can imagine that was no small undertaking.
The goal was to build a new dairy that honored the history of the Beemster Cooperative and the natural landscape of the Beemster Polder. At the same time, the design and construction needed to consider everything we’ve learned about the impact of agriculture and food production on the environment, and what we needed to do as cheesemakers to reduce any negative impact and produce a carbon neutral, all natural, traditional Dutch cheese. Further, any sustainability initiatives must incorporate how people interact with the building, the natural environment and their daily work environment. The result is a dairy that maximizes sunlight for energy and natural light, materials and systems that conserve energy and support a clean and healthy work environment, and recycles waste water from production.
With all of the advances in technology and automation, there are still threads of our origins that are woven throughout the cheesemaking process.
For example, our cheese is always made by hand stirring the curds. There’s a technique to stirring the curds that cannot be replicated by machines and a feel for the curds, knowing the right pressure and the correct size. Another example is our brine wash that is made from a mother brine that has been maintained since 1901 when the cooperative was founded.