Sunday, 16 March 2014

How to enjoy cheese: with a tasting session at Reypenaer, Amsterdam

When I'm travelling longer term, particularly away from Europe, I often start to crave things that are difficult to get hold of where I am, like fresh salad, decent chocolate or, most of all... cheese!

Spending a few days in Amsterdam had me craving cheese even more than normal; every time we wandered past one of the many dutch food or cheese shops in the city centre.

Fortunately, tasting opportunities were numerous, with many shops offering sample pieces of the distinctive yellow wheels, piled up on their shelves.


I found many of the cheeses were much the same from store to store, with a lot of flavoured cheeses largely similar to what is sold in specialist cheese or farm shops in the UK; so nothing  unique. The branded shops however, were definitely better in terms of quality and taste.

Cheese has been an export from The Netherlands since the middle ages. The more famous of which are the Edam or Gouda cheeses, named after their original towns of origin.

One cheese I hadn't come across before, I found whilst searching the web ahead of my visit. I wanted to indulge in a cheese tasting session, avoiding the tourist traps, whilst tasting something traditional. A cheese tasting session at Reypenaer did not disappoint.



‘Reypenaer’ in Dutch translates to ‘ripen’ in English. And although the prospects of a 'ripe' cheese immediately conjures up visions of a soft, gooey and even stinky cheese, like Camembert or Brie, in this context it means rich and mature.

Reypenaer produces a range branded as Reypenaer as well as a range called Wyngaard, after the family name. The Wyngaard cheese is matured in the "new warehouse" whereas the Reypenaer cheese is matured in the "old warehouse" where the wooden environment gives extra flavors to the cheeses. 

A tasting session gives you the opportunity to taste six different cheeses, from both warehouses, whilst learning a bit about the aging process.

Tasting session

The tasting room is hidden below the little shop along Singel, close to Dam Square and Anne Franks house, so a suitable location to rest whilst visiting the sights.

You are seated at wooden benches, which a bit like being at school. However it felt much more sophisticated as each bench is decked out with a small gullotine, a selection of glasses (for wine and port) and of course the range of cheese that will be tasted.



We were given a short presentation and an opportunity to ask questions, before being shown a marketing video. Then it was time for the tasting... at this point your mouth is literally watering in anticipation.

We were guided through each cheese, being informed that it's important to cut thin slices with the gullotine, and better to have many of these rather than just one thick slice. This way allows you to experience the 'melt on your tongue' sensation - and it really does!

The first three cheeses (from the Wyngaard range) were from the "new warehouse", where the climate is simulated as close as possible to the old warehouse. The "old warehouse" is where the Reypenaer branded range of cheeses are matured entirely naturally.



As we considered each cheese in terms of its colour, smell and taste it was difficult not to make reference to it smelling or tasting like 'cheese'. Of course it did, but what else could I taste?
Fortunately with a suggestion card to help, I was able to identify some of the aromas and flavours. It really made me think about what I was tasting, rather than just chomping it down like usual.

There was a distinctive difference between the new and old warehouse cheeses, particularly in terms of colour and taste. It was almost as if you could taste the age of the cheese that matured and inherited the flavours of the 100 year old warehouse.

The "old warehouse" cheeses (the Reypenaer range) look old, and some what 'vintage'. In fact they look quite dry, hard, and even a bit cracked. The oldest one, Reypenaer XO Reserve, is aged for 2.5 years and appears darker in tone as a result of this.

Despite looking old, the Reypenaer Cheese has won awards (the International cheese award in Nantwich, England, a premier cheese show held each year since 1897), and as a cheese lover I can understand why. However, as I moved on in the tasting session, and tried the Reypenaer VSOP, which had been ripened for 2 years, my taste buds did a little dance. A mouthful of port afterwards resulted in a taste explosion. It really was that good.



For me, biting into the Reypenaer VSOP cheese is like tasting home made fudge, compared to factory made equivalents. It crumbles between your teeth and literally melts in your mouth. It even has a slight caramel sweetness, coupled with occasional crunchy bits; the resulting crystals (salt-like calcium lactate or tyrosine that forms in older cheeses).

Enjoy your cheese experience

There are other cheese places in Amsterdam that sell  traditionally made cheese. Most of these offer samples, as does the Reypenaer shop.

However, I seriously recommend taking a cheese tasting session with Reypenaer whilst in Amsterdam. The price is very reasonable at €15 and includes a 15% discount of any purchases you make afterwards.

Here's a few other tips for full cheese enjoyment whilst in Amsterdam:

- Many cheese shops sell a collection of cheeses from a variety of suppliers, which you will often see in other stores. Do try the samples they offer and see for yourself how these differ in quality to the Reypenaer cheeses (their shop also offers samples).

- I don't recommend you buy cheese from a 'dutch food shop' as it's touristy and often overpriced. For example I saw the same Reypenaer cheese for sale in a Dutch food store for around €10 more for a small 300g (approx) segment.

- Some 'cheese shops' with their own brand of cheese are worth buying from, assuming you can taste before you buy.

- Wherever you purchase your cheese, avoid the supermarkets.

Reypenaer cheeses can be purchased from their shop at 182 Singel, Amsterdam, their warehouse in Woerden, at the airport and online from their website here which is also where you can find out more about their cheeses, and tasting sessions.