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:
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.
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.
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 bumbong, bibingka 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.