The French are rightfully proud of their cheese, but one they can’t take credit for is Gouda Étuvé – which is very popular in France nonetheless. And I don’t blame them for going gaga over this Gouda. At my fromagerie, they keep the giant half-wheel right on the counter, in front of them, because perhaps fifty-percent of the customers order a wedge of it. Or in my case, 100%.
Foreign cheeses in France are either fully embraced, or ignored. Le cheddar is just now gaining some recognition and Stilton is pretty widely praised. Gouda is a non-offending cheese, and is one of the more popular imports in France. Like Emmenthal, it’s a cheese for those who want something milder. Or wilder, as is in the case of the Gouda with stinging nettles at Pascal Beillevaire.
The name étuvé means “cooked”, usually in a covered casserole or similar vessel. Since the milk for nearly every kind of cheese is cooked, I’m not sure why it’s designated as “étuvé”, because whenever I ask, the cheese-sellers are so busy slicing cheese for the long line of customers, they just say it’s cooked à la vapeur, or with steam. And I keep my mouth shut, so as not to distract them from their very important duties.
Aged Gouda has a richly developed milky-caramel taste, almost smoky, but not quite. The sharp flavors don’t detract from the creaminess of the cheese. And I’ve had a few so-so examples, and had some very great ones. According to his terrific book, The Cheese Primer, Steve Jenkins says to only buy aged Gouda that’s been aged at least two years. The trick is, like many things in France (and elsewhere) is to go to a knowledgable fromager (cheese shop) and ask for their opinion. In France, they don’t usually give tastes, so shopping from someone you trust is imperative. Elsewhere, a little slice will let you know if the cheese is good or not.
The longer I live in France, the more I realize that the overloaded cheese board isn’t necessary; I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s better just to have one or two kick-butt cheeses that have been carefully selected for you, and not complicate things. Sometimes it’s better just to have a sticky, oozing wedge of Brie de Meaux, and other times, a runny, bulging little patty of Saint-Marcellin is just right. Sometimes guests appreciate you making the choice for them, so I’ve been trying to just serve one or two cheeses, rather than the overload I used to bring home when shopping. (In my defense, it’s hard to stop when there are so many great cheeses. Oh, the problems I have…)
But a while back I was at a fancy multi-starred restaurant and instead of the usual overloaded cheese cart being wheeled out, there was just one cheese: a 4-year old Comté from a noted affineur (cheese ripener) in Alsace. It was so good, it’s been a couple of years since I had it and I still remember precisely how it tasted. Like, right at this moment this morning, as I sit here at my kitchen counter at 9:16am.
In addition to me not having to scramble to figure out what to do with leftover heels of cheese all the time anymore, the good news is that you don’t need to come to France and stand in line to get a taste of this one. True, if there is a good cheese shop where you live, let’s hope there is a line (which is a good sign), and you can pick up a wedge of this one yourself.
As for me, I’ve got two different specimens joining me here at home, after a weekend of dinners here with friends. One is still rather massive and imposing, and the other I’m doing a pretty good job of working down on. It’s a pretty formidable task, but perhaps the fairest tactic to take is to go Dutch, and split my allegiance between them.
Gouda Flavor, Young & Aged (The Nibble)
Aged Gouda (Amazon)
Making Gouda Cheese (New England Cheesemaking)