The Perennial Favorite: Edam Cheese aka Queso de Bola

cheese options from the SF Fancy Food Show

Edam cheese was never really on my radar.  I mean I’ve eaten it, and it was perfectly acceptable, but those encounters were not those superlative laden events, that I’ve had say, with a good Epoisse.  However, my interest was piqued, first when my Filipino sister-in-law mentioned her father requested that she specifically bring some Edam on her visits home.  A similar story was mentioned by a Mexican culinary expert I knew, who in passing said Edam cheese was common in Mexico.  Really?  I guess I never paid any attention, but why the Philippines and Mexico?  Like I said, my encounters with Edam were almost perfunctory and I can honestly say I’d never make a special request for Edam.  To be fair, maybe the Edam that I’ve had was subpar, maybe I am needlessly critical.  All possibilities, but why this appeal thousands of miles for the source? And why, as far as I could tell, was it just Edam?

So I researched Edam cheese, specifically in these two places and here is what I found:

Mexico

Although not considered a Mexican product, Edam cheese is an intrinsic part of Yucatan regional cooking.  Take this classic dish – the cheese round is scooped out, filled with a seasoned meat (picadillo), and steamed in the oven in the same manner that a custard is prepared. This queso relleno is then offered to delighted dinners whole, accompanied by a salsa roja.

somewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula

While most people recognize the Spanish influences on Mexican cuisine – the conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, there is also the Mayans, and least we forget the Northern Europeans who left their mark, particularly the Dutch, with the cheese.  Holland was an active trading partner in the 19th century, when Mérida, Mexico was the center for the production of henequen, a fiber used for making rope.

“The corn, the chocolate and the honey, the venison and wild turkey, squash, cucumbers, chiles and tomatoes are from the Mayans,” states Patricia Quintana, noted chef and cookbook author. “The pork and Seville oranges come from Spain, and the Edam cheese from the Dutch.”

When I was in Mérida, Mexico wandering the narrow aisles of its covered market, I saw those round red globes of Edam and Gouda were everywhere, piled into pyramids next to bins of autumn tinged recados, the Yucatan ubiquitous pastes that can be found in just about every recipe, the amazing selections of fruits and vegetables.  I was so entranced with the spice mixes made with annato that it escaped my notice that the Edam might have been out of place.

 

Suset over the Atlantic

Phillipines

I found in my web search that I was not the first one to question this connection; check out this running dialog on Chow.  Filipinos know it best as queso de bola rather than Edam cheese.  [Mexico has a cheese of the same name, but it is not the same cheese.]

The popularity now seems to be that expat Filipinos can easily ship this cheese back to the Philippines without to many worries about spoilage as it is incased in wax and drier so refrigeration is not an issue.  The cheese has quickly been adapted into a variety of Filipino dishes such as

Ensaïmada – a Filipino cheese brioche  The pastry is originally from Majorca Spain that was passed along to former Spanish territories in Latin American and, you got it, the Philippines.  If this doesn’t sound good enough to eat on its own, during the Christmas season it is often eaten with hot chocolate.  [According to my brother, its not even September and the Christmas tunes have sounded in the stores.]

Queso de bola cookies by Kumain

According to Wikipilipinas, Queso de Bola is part of the traditional Christmas the Philippines; frequently included in Christmas banquets. Together with puto bumbongbibingka and hamon, it has long been among the favorite foods served at Christmas.

The cheese is often used in a manner similar to the way Italians use Parmesan, to enhance and supplement the flavors of the salads, sauces and dishes.

There is some debate as to whether the Spanish brought the cheese to the Philippines, or if it came via trade another way.  Spain occupied the Philippines from 1565 to 1898.  Some folks have postulated that the Spanish did bring the cheese because for a time they controlled Holland (from 1579 to 1713), the city known for Edam, Alkmaar was one of the first to be freed from Spanish occupation.  Some rightly question, the Spanish as bringing the cheese because it might make more sense for them to bring a Spanish cheese rather than a Dutch one?  I’ve not been able to find a conclusive answer.  However. whether through informal importing via balikbayan boxes or other processes, the Philippines and Mexico are net importers of cheese, and Edam seems to be at the top of the list.

Regardless of how this cheese came to land so far from home and be integrated into the local cuisine one thing it for sure, its there to stay.  This seemingly non connection that the Netherlands has with far off lands through Edam extend to the Caribbean.  At least with the Caribbean the route seems more direct as the Dutch established colonies there.   As for me, I think I need to give Edam another chance and try out those tasty recipes developed in Mexico and the Philippines.

Update me when site is updated

22 comments for “The Perennial Favorite: Edam Cheese aka Queso de Bola

  1. August 28, 2011 at 8:55 PM

    I enjoy Edam cheese, but I haven’t had it in a while. So I guess I don’t go out of my way to buy it! :) Very interesting that it is so popular in Mexico and the Philippines. I did not know that! I always learn so much from your posts! :)
    Andrea@WellnessNotes recently posted..Another Year, Gratitude, and Focus on Wellness

  2. August 28, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    Great post! I didn’t know that…

    I like Edam cheese, but there is no comparison to Epoisses or Maroilles cheeses.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  3. August 29, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    Interesting – the wandering ways of cheese and how it’s been adapted into different cultures.
    Claudia recently posted..Chilled Zucchini Soup with Mint

  4. August 29, 2011 at 8:49 PM

    You know, I’m sure I’ve tried edam. But because of your post, I’m definitely going to make an effort to seek it out to really experience it on the palate this time around.
    Carolyn Jung recently posted..Food Gal Giveaway: Join Me at the Foster Farms Chicken Cook-Off in St. Helena

  5. August 31, 2011 at 6:02 AM

    I love both Edam and Gouda, esp with living in the Netherlands where both are commonplace. It is so interesting to see how food travels – I would never have drawn the lines of connection. I’m now intrigued to try out the recipes. Thanks for showing us that when it comes to food, the world is a small ‘ball’.
    Kitchen Butterfly recently posted..An Ode to Burrata

  6. August 31, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    I love queso de bola, but I didn’t know that Edam=Queso de Bola. Tahnk you!

  7. August 31, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    I have not had Edam cheese for a while…somehow do not get it often…don’t know why…thanks for the reminder and did not know that Edam cheese is often used in Yucatan cuisine.
    Hope you are having a fantastic week :-)

  8. September 1, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    I do not think I have ever tried edam cheese,but I am loving the idea of a queso rellano. thanks!
    vianney/sweet life recently posted..The Homesick Texan Cookbook ~ Austin-Style Black Beans

  9. September 1, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    It’s always interesting to find something native to one country to be so popular somewhere else…like in Norway they love the flavor of cardamom and it is in so many of their baked goods.
    I remember lots of edam in Amsterdam…interesting to know how popular it is worlds away. If we have it at home it usually gets chunked up as the mild cheese just to snack on – will have to explore more about using it in cooking.
    gastroanthropologist recently posted..Peach Vinaigrette + Spiced Pecans

  10. Laz
    September 3, 2011 at 9:58 AM

    Lovely post. I am a big fan of Edam cheese. Especially favor it for some pulled pork tacos.

    Well Done!

  11. September 5, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    Very educational. I’ve actually never had Edam cheese, and would definitely love to try.

  12. September 5, 2011 at 2:55 PM

    How interesting, I would not think of either Mexican nor Phillapino cuisines for Edam. Excellent read as always, and yes you should give this cheese another look :)
    Wishing you a Very Happy Labor Day!
    Magic of Spice recently posted..What’s on the side? Baked Asparagus Fries

  13. OysterCulture
    September 5, 2011 at 4:58 PM

    Andrea, I like Edam, I’ve just never loved it, which is what piqued my interest because it made me wonder what I was missing.

    Rosa, I’m with you I think we share a similar taste when it comes to cheese.

    Claudia – a small ball indeed.

    Carolyn – definitely should try the Edam, it is a nice cheese.

    KB – great read on your buratta post, loved your cheese focus!

    Erica – My pleasure.

    Julianna – I always am amazed at how food travels.

    Vianney – I bet one of those rellanos would be delicious with a margaritia of yours.

    Gastro – Agreed. I may not have been using the Edam in the way it was intended, these uses open a world of possibilities.

    Laz – I think you could make newspaper taste delicious, but I bet that is a perfect combo.

    5 Star – that has to be the only cheese you have not tried, I am always amazed at your breath of knowledge

    MoS – Thanks! I will be giving it another look, probably in one of the recipes I discovered here.

  14. September 7, 2011 at 12:55 AM

    Hope you’re well rested after the long weekend :) Thanks for posting this article; I haven’t had Edam cheese in a long time. Gotta go find it tomorrow at my local store!

  15. September 10, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    Wow, I’ve been missing out. I have to say it hasn’t been on my radar either. Honestly, I can’t be sure that I’ve ever had it. Now I’ll be on the lookout!
    Lori recently posted..Island Food – Jamaica

  16. September 14, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    I went through a stage early in life when Edam was always on my entertainment menu for “the” Saturday night card game. I have since ignored it when shopping at the cheese counter. I will now bring it back in a furry because the thought of queso relleno is far to throbbing to ignore.

    Another wonderful post LouAnn. I am always amazed at your in depth research. Thank you so much for sharing…
    Louise recently posted..It’s Cream-Filled Doughnut Day!!!

  17. OysterCulture
    September 17, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    Jackie – Go fo it! Had a nice weekend but still need more rest =)

    Lori – Good for you!

    Louise – I agree that queso relleno sounds amazing.

  18. September 18, 2011 at 12:51 AM

    I like cheese..but edam? Not sure I have ever tasted them before. After reading your research, I must look out for them to try!
    Angie@Angiesrecipes recently posted..Pumpkin Maple Cookies with Quark Frosting

  19. September 18, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    I love Queso de bola.Christmas isn’t complete without this bright red ball of cheese.According to a Dutch friend,they use yellow wax for the cheese if it’s for local consumption, and red wax if it’s “For Export”.I sometimes use this instead of parmesan cheese when I make pesto.
    Alisa recently posted..Gas-Powered Drink Blender Upcycles a 1958 Johnson Outboard Motor

  20. September 25, 2011 at 6:09 PM

    Edam is fairly mild in flavor. Perhaps that is part of the appeal. It matches local ingredients almost anywhere in the world?

    Are you going to prepare a Filipino dish with Edam now? I’m quite curious to see it!
    Stevie recently posted..potato omelet with zucchini blossoms

  21. OysterCulture
    September 25, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    Angie, definitely check it out

    Alisa – how interesting, never new about the yellow versus red. I wonder if there is any other difference. I never thought to substitute for pesto, great idea.

    Stevie, perhaps, and I agree it harmonizes with many flavors. If I had time I would certainly make a Filipino dish, for now unfortunately its on my to do wish list.

  22. November 28, 2011 at 12:23 AM

    After reading your research, I must look out for them to try! It is so interesting to see how food travels – I would never have drawn the lines of connection. Andrea, I like Edam, I’ve just never loved it, which is what piqued my interest because it made me wonder what I was missing.

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