Picnicking season is here and I can’t think of a more appropriate time to talk cheese. Grilled, baked, sprinkled or simply sliced and served at room temperature, I love cheese ! And I always make it a point to incorporate the finest locally-made cheeses available into my picnics.
It is nearly impossible for me to imagine summertime without benefit of my picnic basket. Among the things you will find in my picnic basket are fresh fruits and veggies, bread — and cheese! And, speaking of cheese, one of the places my mind immediately goes to is Amsterdam.
Situated in the heart of Amsterdam in a stunning 17th century townhouse, you’ll find Reypenear cheese. A family-run company, Reypenaer has been making fantastic cheeses for well over a century! Nothing artificial here, folks. Reypenaer’s award-winning cheeses contain all-natural ingredients and are aged in completely natural environments, a feat in which the company takes tremendous pride.
In recent years, Reypenaer introduced cheese tastings that have quickly become one of the best attractions in the city. So, of course, I didn’t want to miss out on the chance to experience these scrumptious handcrafted cheeses for myself and pick up a few for my picnic.
As soon as I rounded the corner, the blue awnings signaled a warm welcome; and, as I entered their shop, I was not disappointed. It is nothing short of remarkable — and the same goes for the Reypenear staff. Professional and attentive, I felt very lucky that I had snagged the last remaining slot for the 3:00 cheese tasting that afternoon.
The tastings take place in the cellar, which has been beautifully renovated and the tables very thoughtfully set. As I took my seat at the table in the front row on the right, I felt myself slip into some sort of cheese-induced trance. Umm, cheese…
Now, a tasting a Reypenear usually takes about an hour and includes a selection of six cheeses (sometimes seven) paired together with white wine, red wine and port (or you may choose non-alcoholic drinks). As your cheese expert guides you through each cheese, pay attention because, if you successfully complete the course, you will receive a certificate stating that you are a Professional Cheese Tasting Master!
Following are the cheeses I tasted and the order in which I tasted them, along with my personal suggestions on how to pair them.
1. Young Cheese. Matured for four months, this lovely white cheese smells like fresh-baked bread! It tastes slightly sweet with hints of walnut and crème fraîche. Sandy Papers’ Suggested Pairing: Wildflower honey, cherry jam, butternut squash, pumpkin or even chicken salad!
2. Wyngaard Gray Goat. Matured for 10 months, this ivory white goat cheese is soft and has a deep, complex taste of wood, walnut, sea salt and spices. It’s a little creamy with a crystalline texture, tastes slightly sour with a hint of Parmesan! Sandy Papers’ Suggested Pairing: Black truffle mustard!
3. Wyngaard Affineurs. Soft, slightly creamy with a taste of butter and a light taste of wood, this golden yellow cheese has matured for six months and makes an awesome everyday cheese! Sandy Papers’ Suggested Pairing: Mustard and dill. Pro tip: Try it in your next grilled cheese sammie!
4. Reypenaer. Named best Gouda cheese of the Netherlands several times, this award-winning golden yellow cheese has an intense, enduring fragrance and flavor with a soft, creamy texture. Matured for one year, the aromas are salty, fruity and nutty. Sandy Papers’ Suggested Pairing: Incorporate it into your favorite scratch macaroni and cheese recipe!
5. VSOP. Matured for two years, this cheese is strong, full of flavor and fragrance (think dark chocolate!) and has a delicate crystalline texture. Some of the aromas you may recognize are chocolate, hazelnut, caramel and wood. Sandy Papers’ Suggested Pairing: Cherry port and black truffle mustard!
6. XO Reserve. Matured for 2.5 to 3 years, this cheese is exceptionally complex, deep in flavor and fragrance and is mature with crystalline texture. Some of the aromas you might recognize are caramel, cognac, walnut, butter and grass.
7. Wyngaard Chèvre Gris. Matured for 10 months, this goat cheese is soft, deep and has the complex taste of wood, walnut, sea salt and spices. It’s also a little creamy with a crystalline texture, tastes kind of sour and has a hint of Parmesan.
If you don’t have time for a tasting, or their sessions are sold out, you can still taste Reypenear’s remarkable cheeses before purchasing them in their ground-floor showroom. Can you guess which three cheeses I bought for my picnic that day?
Hint: I bought a jar of black truffle mustard and a bottle of cherry port.
Ready to book your next vacation? Start here: Sandy Nelson, The Sandy Papers, (703) 975-1747, TheSandyPapers@aol.com, TheSandyPapers.com, Specializing in Europe and the Exotics
As soon as I tried my first Reypenear cheese, I was obsessed!