It’s hard to imagine how pitiful the American cheese scene would be without immigrants. No Spanish, Dutch, English, Swiss, Italians or Germans? All right then: no cows, goats or sheep. Europeans introduced them all. We would have no Dutch Holstein, English Jersey or Brown Swiss cows. No Spanish La Mancha or Swiss Saanen goats. No Vella Dry Jack or Calabro hand-dipped ricotta (immigrants from Italy), no Widmer’s Cheddar (Switzerland), Cacique Cotija (Mexico) or Marieke Gouda (the Netherlands). How sad is that?
The award-winning aged Gouda pictured above also has an immigrant past. Dutch natives Walter and Lenneke Bulk opened their California creamery in 1983 to recreate the cheeses from home that they missed. This summer, the Bulks will pass the business—Oakdale Cheese—to their son John and his wife, Jessica. John has a degree in dairy science from Cal Poly and a blue ribbon for Oakdale’s aged Gouda from the American Cheese Society.
For their raw material, the Bulks rely on a dairy farmer in Oakdale, near Modesto, whose herd produces especially high-fat milk. John follows a traditional Gouda recipe, rinsing the curds to remove whey and limit acid development. The 25-pound wheels are brined, dried, waxed and typically aged for seven to eight months, although his distributor has convinced him to age a few out for a year. Manresa, the acclaimed restaurant south of San Francisco, selected the year-old Gouda for its cheese plate. (Manresa also got its third Michelin star this year. Just saying.)
For my palate, Gouda doesn’t have much to offer until it gets some age on it. It takes months for those caramel aromas to emerge and about a year, Jessica says, to develop crunchy protein crystals. (Cheese Science Toolkit has a great explanation of why those crystals happen.)
The wedge of Oakdale Gouda I sampled was in the eight-month range. No crystals yet but lovely creaminess and perfect salting. Some aged Goudas are so candyish that I lose interest quickly, but the Oakdale cheese has enough acidity to keep it from being cloying. The pale gold interior offers aromas of butter, caramel, butterscotch, pineapple and warm cream. A dessert cheese, for sure, to pair with a creamy imperial stout, spicy Belgian dubbel or oloroso sherry.
Look for Oakdale Aged Gouda at Bi-Rite Markets, Cheese Plus, Haight Street Market and Mission Cheese in San Francisco; at New Leaf Community Markets and Nugget Markets (multiple locations); New Seasons Market in San Jose; Oliver’s Markets (multiple North Bay locations); Good Eggs (online grocer) and the following Northern California farmers’ markets: Davis, Marin, Mountain View and Pleasanton.