Hybrid Gouda

Packing worlds of flavor and functionality.

A hybrid generally refers to an animal or plant that is the result of breeding two different types of the same species, usually to improve upon some trait or traits. Such crossbreeding can produce a grape that withstands cooler climates or a cow that produces more milk. Often, something is lost in the process, perhaps a particular aspect of flavor.

Nothing you can buy in a produce market today, let alone a supermarket, approaches the Jersey tomato of my childhood. An unfortunate result of successful hybridization tends to be standardization, a narrowing of subtle aspects in favor of salient targeted features. Think how one type of banana, the Cavendish, has come to dominate the marketplace. When standardization is achieved, variety and regional specialization disappear.

Why hybridize? The reason is most often economic, to increase shelf-life, in the case of tomatoes. Improved aesthetics or taste experience also drive sales.

Bright navel oranges look great, taste sweet, and the consumer bites into far fewer seeds. It makes for good eating, but if you’re juicing, you’re going to go for a Valencia.

Hybridization can also open new marketing opportunities. This rationale seems to be the main motivation for combining two highly successful cheeses, Dutch Gouda and Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan, to create an Italian-style Gouda, a “Gouda Parm.” Or you may hear the term “parrano,” adopting the Parrano brand name as a generic.

To be clear, despite the Italian names and catchy mottos used to market them, these are Goudas, made predominantly from pasteurized milk and mesophilic cultures to which northern Italian or Parmesan thermophilic starter has been added. The methods used to make this crossbreed are the same used in Gouda production.

Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) uses raw milk and natural whey cultures produced during its own processing rather than commercial starters. Unless Parmigiano-Reggiano makers are freezing, or otherwise preserving, and selling their whey starter, that is not what is being added to the Gouda cultures.

Rather, Gouda Parm producers are using northern Italian Parmigiano style or Parmesan cultures.
A true Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO is crafted only in designated areas of Italy with methods that are regulated from start to finish and stamped by a consortium at 12 months.

Parmesan, on the other hand, is usually a pasteurized milk product that can be made anywhere, but generally in America.

“Gouda” never became a PDO, as the name was already in wide use beyond the Netherlands. In other words, you can make this style of cheese anywhere, and call it Gouda.

Also, Dutch Gouda does not conform to as regulated a process as Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, which must age for a minimum of 12 months. A young Gouda can ripen in only a few months or take several years.

Gouda doesn’t even have to be made from cow’s milk, although the vast majority is.

Depending on what you are looking for in a Gouda, you can choose one along a maturation continuum that suits your preference for flavor or function. A fresh 4-month-old slice can perk up a grilled sandwich, while a 2- to 3-year-old can grace a cheese plate and be savored for its intensity.

While 12-month Parmigiano-Reggianos are sold, minimally mature doesn’t cut it for the discerning, and seldom do you find Parmigiano-Reggianos under 18 months in the United States. Parmigiano-Reggianos are optimal in the two- to three-year range.

American Parmesan, on the other hand, is generally aged 10 months or younger.

A few exceptions are Sartori’s SarVecchio, approximately 20 months, and BelGioioso American Grana Extra Aged, 18-24 months.


How about the Gouda Parm hybrids? Prima Donna Maturo is aged approximately 14 months, while Parrano Originale — note the Italian names — is only five months.

A shorter maturation has a big advantage for a producer. The quick turnaround means efficient cash flow gets baked into a lower price for the hybrids.

While the best Gouda Parms are no longer inexpensive, it is still a half to a third lower than the cost of an imported two-year Parmigiano-Reggiano or a three-year Gouda.

Gouda is a diverse universe in itself, packing worlds of flavor and functionality.

Under three years, they tend to be pliant, creamy and highly meltable. The most mature are stiffer and can splinter upon slicing.

Gouda flavors evolve with age. A brash, grassy youngster, sweet with mellow fruitiness and nut notes, begins with caramel flavors then deepens to butterscotch with age.

As they mature, they may whisper ale or bourbon notes, and steadily toss out more umami. Savory salt, always present, increasingly pops with the delightful crunch of crystals, appearing as crow’s-feet increasingly do at midlife.

What do Parmesan starter cultures bring to a young Gouda? More almond-type nuttiness, subdued sweetness, more umami and crystal crunch than you’d expect in a traditional Gouda of the same maturity. You get characteristics of an aged Gouda that has a springier texture and more compatibility with Mediterranean cuisine. And it’s out the door to shops months sooner.

Novelty and convenience sell. Specialty cheeses are a way to increase market share. However, the Gouda Parm phenomenon is different from the rest of the flavored cheese trend. It’s more complicated than simply adding an ingredient, such as sun-dried tomatoes, to create a flavored cheese.

While specialty options encourage more Gouda consumption, I suspect the Gouda Parm hybrids were created to stop the bleed-out of market share every time the Dutch craved pasta.

Every major Gouda maker seems driven to create their own Italian-style Gouda. What prompted this need to innovate?

The first hybrids are said to have been in production by the 1970s. My best guess is it was the proliferation of Italian cuisine in the late 20th century, along with the explosion of wine and food importation from southern Europe that launched Gouda Parm.

Foods and beverages that were occasional luxuries in northern Europe became commonplace additions to the weekly diet. People travel, they like what they eat abroad, they want to re-create it at home.

In Italian-style Gouda hybrids, caramelized notes and sweetness rebalance while salinity and nuttiness enhance the savory characteristics cherished in aged Parmigiano. The exotic is reinterpreted through a lens of the familiar.

Think of meals traditionally served in the Netherlands, then imagine the tables of Italy, Spain and Greece. Palates shifted to crave more wine, olives, citrus, tomatoes, garlic and southern herbs. Seeking more complementary cheese was predictable.

Pairing Possibilities

The great appeal of these hybrids is the opening of a wider range of pairing possibilities. The sky’s the limit as far as taste experimentation will take you. No wonder Gouda Parm found an audience.

Other hybrid contenders; for example, Alpine-cheddar or cheddar-Gruyere, may win awards and create new favorites, but will they function as successfully in the marketplace as a Gouda Parm? Will every major cheese company rush to imitate that particular hybrid? Not likely.

New hybrids may be perfectly delightful culinary adventures that become irresistible to a small population of cheese lovers. But these novelties in taste seem destined to find only a limited audience. They don’t appear to present the single purchase solution that can bridge cuisines in the way that Gouda Parms do.

Italian-style Gouda parallels the development of the European Union, a culinary demilitarized zone, or neutral territory, where European tastebuds can negotiate with northern and southern flavors and achieve detente, no matter what is brought to the table.

• • •

Gouda Parmesan

Several tastings were conducted, then the Dutch hybrids and Marieke, the only American Gouda Parm sampled, were compared to a few different Parmigiano-Reggianos. Try these Gouda Parms for yourself.


Parrano Originale by Uniekaas Groep, Holland
Aged five months. Pasteurized.

As a 5-month-old, Parrano packs a surprising amount of crunchy salt crystals but the overall texture is soft and resembles a young Gouda. I’d crumble rather than grate. The aroma is mildly fruity which whispers throughout. The taste contains a distant note of bourbon enveloped in salinity. The caramel notes are subdued. Parrano finishes on an understated astringent bite and suggestion of white pepper.

Prima Donna Maturo by Vandersterre Groep, Holland
Aged 14 months. Pasteurized.

According to the Di Bruno Bros, the renowned Italian specialty store in Philadelphia: “The fact that this cheese rivals Parmigiano-Reggiano in sales, in an Italian cheese shop, is about all you have to say to speak to its popularity …” It’s clear why Prima Donna is so highly valued. More red fruity than a Parmigiano-Reggiano, it has umami depth, character, and soon became the go-to hybrid for this taster to compare against the others. The first bite is moist and astringent, then fruit kicks in with fine almond powder top notes. Darker fruit follows with a lemony hint. The finish is mild, pleasant and saline.

My take-away: Parrano is to a young Parmesan as Prima Donna is to a Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Paradiso Reserve by Beemster, Holland
Aged 10 months. Pasteurized.

The aroma hints of bourbon and spice. The flavor opens on fruit and salt, a polenta-gummy tendency in the texture yields to a suggestion of dark ale and almond. Fine saline crystals. The finish has an astringent bite, umami and salinity.

Parèggio by Artikaas, Holland
Aged five to six months.

Artikaas makes some raw milk cheeses, but Parèggio is pasteurized.

Aroma presents a whiff of Chardonnay.

Flavor opens on caramelized fruit, then melts and gives way to lemon whisper over almond and occasional fine crystals. Finishes on umami. Astringency is masterfully controlled and subdued. Prèggio is less fruity than Prima Donna.

Vincent by A Dutch Masterpiece, Holland
Aged six months. Pasteurized.

The aroma is floral.

A burst of flavor on the first bite, fruit, nut, and salinity all at once. Vincent takes a pleasant lemony turn that melts nicely on the tongue as salinity fades. Finishes on saline, dried almond, a lemony-orange zest top note and white pepper. Several samples failed to turn up any salt crystals. If you don’t crave that crunch, Vincent is a good value.

Keisarinna by Finlandia Imported, Finland
Aged seven months. Pasteurized. Not sampled.


Golden by Marieke Gouda, Wisconsin
Aged nine to 12 months. Raw milk. Vegetarian rennet.

Sweet butter, grass and caramel aromatics. Flavor is bold and sharp but balanced. Finishes on buttermilk and nut notes. Semi-soft texture, creamy with crystal crunch and a well-paced melt. Golden was the only American Gouda Parm sampled. Others produced in the United States include:

Pannaro by Chalet Cheese Cooperative, Wisconsin
Aged six to 24 months. Pasteurized. Vegetarian rennet.

Parmezaan Gouda by Eichtens Cheese, Wisconsin
Aged four months. Pasteurized.

Gouda Parmesan by Door Artisan Cheese Company, Wisconsin
Aged six months. Pasteurization and rennet status unknown.

Beverage pairing suggestions include beer and ale, Italian red and white wines, Zinfandel, California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

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