Issue No. 106: Betty Koster’s Goudas

I used to joke that The Netherlands only had one cheese: Gouda. Gouda in endless varieties, gouda with endless wardrobe changes. Gouda aged one year. Two years. Four years. Gouda with red wax. Gouda with black wax. To me, Dutch gouda was an enjoyable cheese, but monotonous, dull. It never got me excited. It never had me reaching for more.

Then I met Betty Koster.

Betty and her husband Martin founded the cheese shop Fromagerie L’amuse in Amsterdam in 1989. The name belied its confidence in its home country. This was a shop of fine imported cheeses—many of them French—alongside some good-enough Dutch ones. That soon changed. Betty began traveling across the country, meeting cheesemakers and agers. She took chances on small Dutch cheesemakers. She worked with cheese agers who were willing to experiment with different lengths of aging, different temperatures, different environments.

By the time I met Betty she’d been developing her stable of great Dutch cheeses for almost two decades. She’d become an icon in The Netherlands. She had gone from cold-calling cheesemakers to talk about the cheese she just bought to driving to farmers across the country and seeing them make cheese firsthand. She got to know the person behind the cheese, something no other shop or exporter did at the time. Before that the Dutch farmers and cheesemakers were unknown. They made cheese in anonymity, which, in the food world, is never a recipe for excellence. Any time a food is made without recognition it is usually made for cost savings, for profit—not for flavor.

Today, her shop is the most copied, revered, sought-after and examined vessel of Dutch cheese in the country. When you visit you’ll see a glowing wall of waxed wheels of gouda behind the case. It’s still a gouda-centric cheese business. But the diversity in the goudas is shocking. From soft, sweet, young goudas to crystalline, caramelized aged ones. From sheep’s milk goudas from flocks grazed on seaside grass island, to goat’s milk goudas that taste like milkshakes.

Many Americans I know admiringly refer to Betty as the Julia Child of Dutch cheese. She’s larger than life, expressive, immediately approachable, funny, and knows her topic inside and out. The cheeses she brings to America have a big personality, just like her. The cheeses she finds, the way she chooses to age them — they are exciting. They will have you reaching for more.

Three exciting goudas

L’amuse Signature is Betty’s house gouda. She’s put her mark on every stage of it, especially the aging, which is done at higher-than-usual temperatures to give the cheese both crystalline crunch and creaminess. These two coveted cheese features are rarely found together.

Brabander is a goat’s milk gouda that reminds me of a milkshake. It’s so easy to eat it’s absurd.

Wilde Weide is one of the crown jewels of Betty’s Dutch cheese roster. It’s a gouda, true, but calling it just a gouda is like saying a Ferrari is just a car. Made organically on a 300 year old farm, its flavors are floral, bourbon rich, stunning.