Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cheese of the Week: Yellow Valley Gouda style

The label reads "Traditional Dutch Farmhouse," but it is made in Shanxi Province in China. So what does it mean to be traditional Dutch? and how about being a Gouda? The true is that this Chinese cheese should not be considered either, but rather a very good example of the what is possible to produce with good milk, salt and cheesemaking expertise.

The cheese (original flavor) is yogurty, more like an American Brick than a Dutch Gouda, with a good amount of salt coming from the rind. It has small eyes in the paste resembling a semi-hard rather than a hard cheese and the aroma is fragrant but a little sterile. Marc de Ruiter the cheesemaker, prides himself of a very clean production and definitely the cheese did not give any off smells from unwelcome bacteria. I also tried the 'italian" flavor, which has tomato and other spices, while it was less salty it was a little dryer making more a grating cheese than a table cheese. Overall, Yellow Valley is a good cheese that could use less salt and should be eaten a young age. It melts fast, making it a great option to add tor a "western" style meal (pasta, sandwiches, mashed potatoes) and if in China you should look for it.

The story of Yellow Valley is easy, you can read it in their website, a Dutchman move to China to support local sustainable farming and had a passion for Goudas of his native land. He started making cheese from an old recipe, pays above market prices for milk, and takes care of the people and animals who have decided to join him in producing this cheese. The story feels familiar because most cheeses of the Americas have a similar story. What is truly unique about this cheese is that its market depends almost a 100% percent on it being consumed by foreigners in a country with no cheese eating culture. Therefore the production is small, but the opportunity for expansion is huge if ever more Chinese people start incorporating cheese into their diets. Here a video about that potential posted by The Cheese Goddess from Chinese english TV.

However, what interested me about Yellow Valley is less about its market potential and more about an interesting way of approaching a common problem. Increasingly, the lifestyles of small farmers around the world are being eliminated by our reliance on the production of food by conglomerates. This means that the small guy is pushed out because of unfair competition from large corporations receiving large subsidies in the form of tax incentives, artificial low oil prices for production and transportation, and unlimited access to high-interest credit for consumers.

The story of Marc de Ruiter is similar to that of other in the cheese world who have moved around the world to help small dairy farmers develop a better market for their milk and have turned into cheesemaking as a real possibility. To mind comes Joseph Dubach, who taught Bill Hogan (West Cork Natural Cheese Company) maker of Desmond and Gabriel in Ireland to make cheese in Costa Rica. Other stories are those documented by The What Took You So Long Foundation in Africa about camel cheesemaking.

I hope to visit Marc soon and learn more about his work, but for now I have three wheels of his cheese which are great for snacking and taking a break from noodles and other Chinese food.

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