Antwerp wasn’t on my bucket list until I tasted this gorgeous Belgian Gouda. Now I must go. The cheese is made at a creamery about an hour away, then sent to Antwerp for aging. The family that matures the Gouda (and many other fine European cheeses) also runs a cheese shop in Antwerp that some say is the best in Europe. The shop stocks hundreds of cheeses and supplies Belgium’s finest restaurants. The famous De Koninck brewery is practically next door and provides the cheese-aging space. Field trip, anyone?
For the American market, the Gouda has been rechristened OG Kristal. (The Belgian name is a challenge for English speakers.) If you love those crunchy bits that turn up in some well-aged cheeses (they’re protein crystals), you will fall for this 20-pound amber beauty. It has crystals galore, plus a luscious, dense creaminess that makes you think you are eating a salted caramel. The importer describes the flavor as “boozy cherries, fudge and butterscotch.” Can you resist?
OG stands for Old Groendal, a reference to the Groendal company that makes the cheese. But the important word is Kristal. Dairy scientists still don’t entirely understand the formation of internal cheese crystals, but they seem to occur when enzymes break down the cheese’s protein into amino acids, one of which is tyrosine. When there’s enough tyrosine, it crystallizes. That’s the nickel answer.
You don’t have to understand the chemistry to enjoy OG Kristal, an 18-month-old Gouda made from pasteurized milk from a single farm. The Van Tricht family—father-and-son affineurs (cheese-aging experts)—store their cheeses in De Koninck’s former bottling facility, now divided into eight aging rooms with all the temperature and humidity controls needed to mature cheeses of many types. The family’s retail shop, Only Cheese, has a rotating selection of De Koninck brews on tap. American cheese merchants: steal that idea.
I didn’t know any of this when I photographed OG Kristal (above) with a nutty dessert sherry. I stand by that pairing, but now I’m intrigued by the idea of enjoying this Gouda with a rich, spicy, high-alcohol Belgian ale, like a dubbel or quad. Rochefort is a personal favorite, and I’m pretty sure this experiment is in my immediate future.
Look for OG Kristal at these retailers.
Me, too. Bread with cheese? Even better. Dark pumpernickel, crusty baguettes, raisin brioche, walnut levain, seedy seven-grain loaves…all of them shine with cheese but not with the same cheese. Join me for a seriously fun evening exploring the love match between bread and cheese at Petaluma’s beautiful new Artisan Baking Center. Champion baker Craig Ponsford (Gold Medal winner at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie) will be making our seven breads. I’ll bring the cheeses. Wine and beer, of course. A night to remember!
Bread & Cheese: Seven Perfect Pairings
Thursday, December 6
Artisan Baking Center
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.