Deep in the countryside some thirty miles north of Amsterdam, the Koopman family has been raising cows for three generations and turning their milk into the only raw-milk Edam still produced in Holland. A trip back in time.
What do The Milkmaid (Het Melkmeisje) – Dutch painter Johannes Veermer’s celebrated painting now displayed in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum – and 28-year-old Daan Koopman have in common? Back in the 17th century, when that masterpiece was first put on canvas, Dutch Edam cheese was made with raw milk across the entire country, as is still the case on the Koopman farm. While pasteurized milks have flowed across the planet, this small, rural cheesemaker crafts what can only be called an edible museum piece.
But make no mistake, Daan and his parents, Sjaak and Lia, don’t rely on old-fashioned techniques. On their 40-hectare farm (just under 99 acres), the hundred or so grazing Holstein Friesian cows are milked two to four times a day by automated robots. An electronic bracelet on each cow’s front leg lets her through the facility’s doors. The Koopmans’ motive in making raw-milk Edam? “Simply for its one-of-a-kind taste. And if it preserves our culinary heritage at the same time, all the better,” they add.
Each day’s milk (a daily average of about 3,000 liters or 792 US gallons) is poured, in several bouts, into this large, wood-ringed tank. Lactic ferments are added and the mixture is gently heated for an hour at 29°C (84.2°F). The resulting curd is then sliced with metal blades and heated to 35°C (95°F) for a half-hour to dry it slightly.
Next, to remove the excess moisture (the liquid commonly known as whey) from the curd, the cheese chunks are placed in plastic molds covered with small holes (seen in the background behind Daan) and pressed to squeeze out this fluid. Then, over the following two days, the Edam balls are plunged regularly into brine baths, at last coming to rest on the wooden boards of the ripening cellars.
In the cool air of these cellars, at a constant temperature of 15°C (59°F), the raw-milk Edam is left to age for one to three months, developing its unique flavor: mild and salty, with aromas of young hazelnuts.
In the shadow of the mills that dot the Dutch plains with metronomic regularity, a dry crust gradually forms on these tender-hearted Edam balls. Edam is sold in its original bare state in the Netherlands; for export, though, it is sheathed in red or yellow paraffin to better preserve it.
The farm is home to a small shop where members of the Koopman family sell their cheese themselves three days a week. The 1.6-kilogram (3.5-pound) Edam balls can be purchased whole or cut and come in two varieties: plain or speckled with caraway seeds. Our farmers don’t have an online store: To find their raw-milk treasure, explore the Dutch cheese vendors. Artisans from other countries are equally aware of its rarity and, like Christian Janier, Lyon cheesemaker and Meilleur Ouvrier de France, are honored to sell this Edam at their own stands.