Last Sunday, June 25, Slow Food Netherlands launched the Traditional Boeren Leyden Presidium during the Slow Food in the Park event, a festival held to celebrate the diversity of the Slow Food network and spread the message of good, clean and fair food, featuring free workshops, tastings and a lunch prepared by the Slow Food Chefs’ Alliance.
The new Traditional Boeren Leyden Presidium promotes cheesemakers from the cheese’s historic area of origin in Southern Holland, who skim milk following natural procedures and produce 10-12 kg cheeses matured for at least 12-18 months. Boeren Leyden is one of the oldest cheeses in the Netherlands, but today only a few farms still graze their cows in the open pastures of the polders and use traditional equipment and methods to produce a high-quality cheese whose flavor is on the verge of disappearing.
The Presidium involves a group of producers and affineurs:
- Producers: Boris & Ellen Heemskerk (De Morgenstond, Oud-Ade), Theo Warmerdam (De Sophiahoeve, Warmond), Trees van Leeuwen (De Keizershof, Zoeterwoude).
Until 1870, all the cheese in the Netherlands was made on small farms by the cattle breeders themselves. When, in the early 20th century, the international demand for Dutch cheese increased, small cheesemakers gradually went into crisis, unable to survive on a market demanding competitive prices and high production figures. Nowadays, just 1% of Netherlands’s cheese is made on small farms and Boeren Leyden represents just a small fraction of that percentage.
The city of Leyden, whose coat of arms is stamped on labels, hosted a popular cheese market as early as 1303 and, until two centuries ago, Boeren Leyden was the most common cheese in the country. Thanks to its high acidity, low fat and firm structure, this cow’s milk cheese was perfect for carrying on Dutch navy and merchant ships. Despite the extremely high temperature and humidity of the tropical seas, the cheese kept very well and was used to nourish ships’ crews throughout the 16th and 17th centuries and traded in the country’s overseas colonies. It was in that period that cumin was added to the curd to make the hard cheese easier to cut.
According to the traditional Boeren Leyden cheesemaking process, morning milk is left to stand all day long to allow the cream to rise to the top. Then the cream is removed and the evening milk is added. The cream that rises during the night and removed the next morning, after which the milk is heated to a temperature of 28-30°C. Rennet is added, the curd is cut into 5-10 mm fragments in the next half hour, the whey is drained and the curd is washed with water to regulate lactose and pH levels. The curd is then stirred vigorously and left to ripen, following a practice similar to that of cheddaring. The resulting curd is crumbled and, after the addition of cumin seeds, placed in molds between two layers of curd to which cumin has not been added. After the molds have been pressed for some hours, the cheeses are extracted and pushed through so-called ‘zakpers’, which give it its typical rounded shape. After being soaked for four days in brine, the rind is coated with a reddish-brown film dyed with annatto seeds.
Boeren Leyden has received PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) certification under the ‘Boeren-Leidse met sleutels’ denomination and the 10-12 kg cheeses can be made throughout the year, maturing periods varying from 30 days to 30 months.