Welcome back to CODY'S WORLD OF CHEESE, where our resident cheesemonger Cody Reiss explains what funky fromages you should definitely be eating.
If you’re anything like me, you may have spent a week in Amsterdam getting so terribly high on weed brownies that you couldn’t tell whether or not you’d peed yourself. If you’re a wiser soul, you may have spent your time sampling some of Holland’s other mind-blowing edible specialty: Gouda. There’s a massive variety of incredibly dank Goudas out there, so dense and full of crunchies you might think you’re at a Phil Lesh concert. It’s time to expand your Gouda horizons, so throw that flabby chunk of smoked Gouda at someone you hate (looking at you Kyle, RIP), and grab a fat slab of this week’s crucial, caramel cadet: Roomano.
Gouda—pronounced “HOW-da” by the Dutch—is one of the oldest cheeses still being made today, and over the years, it has grown to be one of the most widely snarfed cheeses in the world. Due to loose regulations and standards, however, shitty knock-off cheese is often marketed as Gouda, and most of the stuff you see in stores is usually pretty shwag. Nowadays, Gouda has become less of a strict family of cheeses, and more of a general term to describe a bunch of cheeses made in the traditional Dutch style. These techniques include “washing the curd,” in which whey is drained from the curds and replaced with warm water, and submerging the freshly shaped wheels of cheese in a salt water brine—much like Mother does to me when I’ve been a bad boy—both of which work to lower the amount of lactose (and, in turn, lactic acid) in the final cheese. This process makes young Goudas relatively mild, and allow older ones to develop deep, toffee-like sweetness, rather than the “sharp” flavors you find in most aged cheeses. The lower acidity of the cheese also makes it more vulnerable to boo-boo bacteria, so cheesemakers often seal Gouda in wax to prevent unwanted mold growth. I know what you’re thinking: “Wow… I’m bored.’ (Damn, you sound just like my wife—or I guess she’s my ex-wife now, haha.)
Anyways, let’s get to the Gouda holy grail. Actually, I have a confession to make: Roomano isn’t technically a Gouda. One of the strict requirements that do exist for Goudas is the FDA’s mandate that Goudas have at least 46 percent butterfat, and Roomano doesn’t quite hit that mark (it is marketed plainly as “Aged Cheese”). Regardless, it still packs all the danky sweetness and crispy crunchies of the best aged Gouda, and if I let pencil-neck regulators tell me what names I can and can’t use, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my ex-wife’s maiden name.
Just when Roomano takes you to the very edge of Flavortown™, and you think you might bust a curd, the cheese fades into a salty, roasted-hazelnutty ephemera.
Here are the facts: Roomano (not to be confused with Pecorino Romano or Everybody Loves Ray… Roomano ) is a Gouda-style cheese made from cow’s milk, that’s usually aged for at least four years. Like my ex-wife’s handsome new boyfriend, it’s tall and dense, with an amber, granite-like surface. Grab yourself a fat slab and take a good whiff—you’re going to like the way it smells, I guarantee it™. It’s like diving face-deep into a sweet banoffee pie, packing flavors you’d never expect from a cheese; the perfect harmony of toasty roasty, bright, floral, and fruity. As you smash the first nutty nugs into your talk box, the texture is a little dry and crumbly, like an aged Cheddar, but slowly fades into a velvety consistency that coats your tongue and the roof of your mouth like fudge. This shit straight tastes like cheese candy, as if some freaky Dutch scientist crossed Parmigiano Reggiano with Grandma’s homemade toffee. Close your eyes, and you could be in an autumn forest, eating bites of buttered toast slathered in dark caramel and sprinkled with flaky salt. Just when Roomano takes you to the very edge of Flavortown™, and you think you might bust a curd, the cheese fades into a salty, roasted-hazelnutty ephemera. This is when the crunchy munchies take control (let them). This butterscotch blessing is jam-packed with those irie little protein crystals (known in the biz as chompa-chewies, mouthy mathblasters, or flavor whippits). I enjoy cracking them open one by one, like salty, umami-packed Pop Rocks.
Once you’ve munched your way all the way down to Roomano’s wax rind, you might be so turnt for cheese that you text “sup?” at 3 AM to that cheese you ghosted a month ago on Gratr. Don’t eat the wax rind. It’s technically edible, but it’ll probably leave you with a bad case of the Mumbling Tummy Ruxpins.
While Roomano is a frighteningly dank snacking cheese on its own, and a total party pleaser (like my famous “where’d my thumb go” trick), it also makes for an incredible pairing and cooking cheese.
Roomano is the kind of cheese I fall asleep eating in bed, and when I wake up screaming and covered in sweat, I peel salty crumbles from my flesh and put them back where they belong—my snack box annex—and contemplate when and how I turned into such a dirty little cheese boy.
While Roomano is a frighteningly dank snacking cheese on its own, and a total party pleaser (like my famous “where’d my thumb go” trick), it also makes for an incredible pairing and cooking cheese. Capitalize on the sweetness by serving this sucker for dessert, or indulge in a “looks like my marriage is falling apart” breakfast by shaving it over crisp waffles and ladling soft spoonfuls of crème fraîche over top. Use it in place of Parmesan on your pasta or slip secret nugs into your mac ’n’ cheese, fondue, and gratins. Hell, make a fucking s’mores with it. On the plate, you can either contrast its sweetness by serving it with something crisp and fresh—like my rhymes, or tart apples—or emphasize the sweetness by making a fancy boy Butterfinger, serving it with dark chocolate and hazelnuts. In the drinky department, same rules apply: Cut the sweetness with a dry white or cider, or go full-on sweet monster by pairing it with bourbon or a chocolate stout.
If you like Roomano (which you will), try some other chill-ass aged Goudas. Grab anything labeled “boerenkaas,” which means “farmer’s cheese” and which are usually handmade from raw milk. As far as specific producers, Old Amsterdam, L’amuse, and Beemster XO are all very good boys. Then, you can start branching out into different milk-types, tasting on the wonderful sheep milk Ewephoria, or the goat milk Midnight Moon. If you’re interested in exploring the world of lactic polyamory, try Fourmage, where milk from four different animals mix and mingle like couples in their 40s who have nothing left to lust for at home. If you want the dank nuttiness but less sweetness, grab an aged Alpine like an old Gruyere or Comté. If you want to go deeper into the sweet dungeon, grab the Norwegian cheese Brunost, which is truly cheese caramel.
No matter what kind of Gouda you get, just please, for the love of sweet baby god, don’t get smoked Gouda. Grab something caramelly, complex, and crunchy, and smoke some fatty brisket instead. And maybe a spliff.
Cody Reiss is a comedian, cook, and cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in New York City. He has made cheeses at home and on farms in Brazil and New York, and has traveled to more than 35 different countries, sampling over 350 different cheeses along the way. You can follow him on Instagram at @codyreiss.