Photo: An example of a good Gouda cheese made in South Africa
Ever wondered why we have been buying Sweet Milk Cheese all these years when in fact it is Gouda Cheese?
Sweet Milk Cheese is another name for Gouda Cheese. Gouda originated in Holland probably in the town called Gouda. I can imagine that the area being cold the farmers of old had trouble keeping their milk warm for the bacteria to do their thing. Bacteria are very fussy as we have said before and like to live at their favourite temperature and if you change it they go to sleep. And we need the bacteria to consume the lactose and produce lactic acid. Cheese is just a way of storing milk for a long period of time and the dryer the cheese the longer we can store it. But not only the dryness helps store cheese but also the acid formed by the bacteria and the saltiness helps preserve our product.
Back to the question – how did farmers of old keep the milk warm without the use of modern day electricity? They used wooden vats to start with. And then someone must have had the bright idea to add warm water to the curd and noticed it didn’t really affect the cheese in a negative way but rather made the texture smooth and creamy. The cheese is not as acid as the acid has been washed away with the warm water. It also washes away some of the sugars (lactose) which leaves less for the bacteria to consume with resultant less lactic acid being formed in the cheese. We should rather call the cheese” less acid cheese” rather than “sweet milk cheese”.
This knowledge was copied by the countries around Holland and so Havarti (Danish), Raclette (Swiss) Tomme (French ) and Fontina (Italy) are also washed curd cheeses.
Gouda can be aged up to a year. But when aging a cheese, it is best to have a drier curd and to leave some sugar in the curd for the bacteria to do their work while the cheese is aging. To make the curd drier, less water at a higher temperature is used to wash the curd. Gouda that is for consumption within 4 months is washed with more water at a lower temperature.
One has to be careful when adding the hot water to the curd as you can kill the bacteria by giving them a heat shock. Spreading the hot water while stirring helps. And the quality of the water is important. Be sure the water is not teeming with other bacteria that may want the sugar, lactose, in the milk reserved for our cheese making lactic bacteria.
Happy cheese making
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Washed curd cheeses are smooth and creamy. Try your hand at a batch with our recipe for Gouda.