Where’s the Gouda? Every time I see the Giacomini sisters who own Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, I nag them. Every time I see their cheesemaker, Kuba Hemmerling, I nag him. Where is that aged Gouda you said you were making? I’ve been asking about it for years. They’ve been stonewalling me for years. And now, ladies and gentlemen, the Gouda.
Many cheese enthusiasts associate Point Reyes Farmstead with blue cheese. The piquant Original Blue, for years this California dairy’s only product, is a cheese-counter staple. When Hemmerling joined the team about eight years ago, the Giacominis encouraged him to experiment with their cow’s milk and broaden the repertoire. Toma, a semi-firm, buttery snacking cheese, emerged from his research and has been a runaway success. The Stilton-like Bay Blue, another hit, followed two years later.
In the meantime, a Gouda lurked in the shadows. Hemmerling, who had some experience with the style, made a few wheels in 2009, using directions he got from a Dutch dairy school. And he nailed it. The recipe needed no tweaking, Hemmerling said, and he has not altered the procedure since.
But the Gouda remained under wraps because the creamery did not have room to age enough for the marketplace. Hemmerling believes that the 20-pound wheels need at least 24 months in the cellar to achieve their potential, and the space wasn’t there. “There’s a lot of flavor produced between months 18 and 24,” Hemmerling told me. But taking up shelf space that he needed for the popular Toma, which is mature in three months, made no sense. Now, with expansion plans underway, the family is ready to build its Gouda fan club.
Made with pasteurized milk and non-animal rennet, Point Reyes Gouda has a firm, pale gold interior speckled with crunchy white protein crystals, a pleasing feature that only develops in long-aged cheeses. The tiny openings in the paste weep a little, so the surface seems to glisten. Hemmerling wasn’t thrilled when I mentioned that. He called it “trapped moisture” and said it results from trying to produce a Gouda that is creamy, not dry. Betty Koster—a Gouda affineur near Amsterdam—told me she likes to see these “tears” in Gouda eyes. She considers it a sign of quality.
I’ve tried Point Reyes Gouda a few times now, including a 30-month-old sample recently, and my notes are consistent: aromas of pale caramel and cooked cream and a scent that reminds me of roasted pineapple; a creamy texture; and spot-on salting. The flavor is sweet but not cloying; even so, you don’t want a lot. I can nibble on Toma until I’ve unwittingly eaten a quarter pound, but an ounce of this concentrated Gouda is plenty.
Most Goudas, including this one, are painted repeatedly with a waxy food-grade coating to keep the interior creamy and prevent mite damage during aging. They also rely on a technique called curd washing—draining the whey in the cheese vat and replacing it with hot water. This step removes lactose that would otherwise ferment and produce lactic acid. Curd washing yields a more mellow cheese with a higher pH and more supple texture; you should be able to bend a shaved slice of Point Reyes Gouda into a horseshoe before it breaks.
In an interview years ago, I asked Koster what she looked for in Gouda. “If it’s too salty, I don’t want it,” she told me. “I think it has to be sweet and nutty. You have to taste the crystals, and it has to fill up your palate.” I think she would more than pleased with Point Reyes Gouda.
I would pair this cheese with a wine that has some nuttiness and subtle sweetness, like an Oloroso or Amontillado sherry or Madeira. A rich Chardonnay could work. Beer drinkers, choose a malt-forward style, like a brown ale, doppelbock or porter.
Availability is limited but will improve as more wheels reach maturity. For now, you can order Point Reyes Gouda on the creamery’s website. On the first weekend of every month, the creamery brings Gouda to these farmers’ markets: Ferry Plaza (San Francisco/Saturday); Grand Lake (Oakland/Saturday); and Marin Civic Center (San Rafael/Sunday). Freestone Artisan Cheese in Freestone also carries it. At Liloliho Yacht Club in San Francisco, chef Ravi Kapur is shaving the Gouda into a chicory salad with Fuji apples, almonds and Delicata squash.