Halloween is pretty quiet at my house. We have almost no kids in our neighborhood. Still, I fill a bowl with candy and wait for the doorbell to ring. This year, I plan to settle in for the evening with my favorite candy—a well-aged, crystalline, caramelly Gouda—and a Rogue Dead Guy Ale. The creepy label will get me in the mood for whatever little ghouls do come to the door.
The 18-month Gouda pictured here, Stompetoren Grand Cru, is so happy with this malty maibock. But what I recently learned about Gouda is making my head spin.
Stompetoren, named for a Dutch town, is produced by the same Dutch cooperative that makes several other Goudas sold at fine cheese counters: Beemster, L’Amuse, Reypenaer. All of these brands originate at CONO, a century-old co-op with 460 farmer-members. In the world of Dutch dairy co-ops, that’s not big. Even so, Beemster is the top-selling branded Gouda in the Netherlands.
Stompetoren leaves the CONO dairy at 15 days old. At that point, “it is identical to Beemster, identical to L’Amuse and indentical to Reypenaer,” says Marcel Vantuyn, the Dutch-born managing director for CONO USA. They are all the same cheese. But Dutch traders buy these young wheels, mature them in their own aging cellars and then put a brand on them.
Could a good taster distinguish an 18-month-old Stompetoren from an 18-month-old Beemster? Perhaps. Different facilities have slightly different aging protocols and, of course, different microbes in their building. “Everybody believes their aging warehouse gives the best flavor profile,” says Vantuyn.
Until the 1960s, Dutch Gouda was not branded, Vantuyn told me. His mother would send him to the store for Gouda, not Beemster. “If you asked what kind, the answer would be Jong, Belegen or Oud,” says Vantuyn, meaning a young, medium or mature wheel, with the age range being about one to ten months.
Branding arose because it allowed traders to segment the market. Now they can sell one brand to supermarkets and another, with a different label and a higher price point, to the independent shops. But the flavor difference between the two brands may be slim.
Both L’Amuse and Stompetoren are born at CONO and matured in the cellars of Remijn, a major Dutch trader. But that doesn’t make them identical, according to Betty Koster, the Amsterdam merchant who sells L’Amuse to the U.S. Remijn “matures cheese in several ways and one of them is my way,” Koster told me in an e-mail.
It would be difficult but enlightening to organize a tasting of CONO Goudas of similar age matured in different cellars—a clear demonstration of how the same cheese responds to different conditions. Maybe some day.
In the meantime, Stompetoren Grand Cru is making me happy. It has all those caramel/butterscotch/brown sugar notes that I expect in aged Gouda. It’s creamy and crunchy, and Rogue’s Dead Guy is its soul mate, echoing the cooked brown-sugar aromas but with enough hoppy bitterness to keep the match from being cloying. Look for Stompetoren at these retailers.