Where Does Herve Cheese Come From?
Where does Herve cheese come from? This pungent and soft Belgian cheese is considered one of the most popular cheeses in Belgia and it was invented in the Belgian town of Herve. Everything about it, including its look, its hard outer layer with its soft inside, its taste, and its aroma, makes it a lovable cheese for both Belgians and foreigners who happen to visit this country.
What Is Herve Cheese?
Herve cheese is considered a special cheese because it is a washed-rind cheese with a soft texture. This kind of cheese ripens inwards and is treated specially by periodical washing and curing to allow bacteria to grow on its surface, giving it its distinct glossy surface and special aroma and taste. The flavorful taste of its rind is often considered the most preferred part of this cheese. And once the soft inside of this cheese is exposed, it will become even more appealing.
Herve cheese is distinguished especially by its distinct look. The rind of this cheese looks glossy with reddish or brownish color, which is the result of the 3-month aging process during which the rind is exposed to bacteria. The inside of this cheese feels much softer with color that is significantly paler than that of its rind.
The taste of this cheese, which also changes as it ripens, also becomes a distinctive factor that makes it a special and popular Belgian cheese. The inside of the cheese is originally sweet, but as the cheese ripens, it will become increasingly spicier.
Overall, Herve cheese is among cheeses with strong flavors, so strong that people who are not familiar with it may call it a stinky cheese with a terrible smell. Eating the cheese alone is thus not the best way to serve it and accompanying it with other dishes and beverages that may balance out its strong flavor, such as beer, is always a good idea. Besides, as people become more and more familiar with this cheese, they will eventually find its pungent smell a special feature that makes this cheese a truly special one.
Where Does Herve Cheese Come From?
Where does Herve cheese come from? The Belgian town of Herve is the origin of this cheese. There is another soft washed-rind cheese called Limburger cheese that is also made near this town. This cheese is similar to Herve cheese. The difference in name is partly because Herve is located near the Belgian borders with the Netherlands and Germany. In the past, the Duchy of Limburg united the regions that are now separated by these international borders. As a result, cheese with the same characteristics may have different names due to the separation of their geographic origins.
Herve Cheese Production Process
There are several important stages in the production process of Herve cheese. The primary ingredient of this cheese is cow’s milk and the milk can be used immediately after it is milked from the cow. Pasteurization process is optional and can be done if sterilization is preferred. If pasteurization is not performed, the milk is immediately used and heated to the cow udder’s temperature.
During the heating—or warming—process, rennet is added to milk. Just like in the production process of other cheeses, rennet is used in this process to allow the milk to coagulate. The coagulated milk will form the curd on the top of the liquid and will then be used for making the cheese.
Part of the whey is then removed from the curd and the curd is then placed in the mold. The mold has always been square-shaped since the first Herve cheese was made. In the past, wooden channels are used as molds. Today, the molds can be made using any solid materials.
The cheese is then drained overnight. During this process, the remaining whey residue that is still left on the cheese is removed and the curd will compress, shrink, and become increasingly dry. This entire process doesn’t involve mechanical pressing. After the draining process, the cheese is then removed from the mold and the salting process to preserve the cheese will occur. This process can be done by either steeping the cheese in brine water or salting it.
For most cheeses, the salting procedure becomes the final procedure of cheesemaking, especially if the cheeses don’t require aging. In Herve cheese’s case, the process will continue with the aging or ripening process, which will give this cheese its unique look, texture, taste, and odor.
After being salted, the cheese is allowed to ripen in the cellars with constantly monitored humidity and temperature levels. During this ripening process, the cheese is washed and turned twice a week to expose it to brevibacteria, which are responsible for the cheese’s reddish color, distinct taste, and pungent aroma.
The length of the ripening process varies depending on the preferred type of cheese that will become the final product. To produce a mild Herve cheese, one month of ripening process is needed. To produce Herve cheese with stronger features, up to 3 months of ripening process are needed.
The Challenge to Maintain the Cheese Tradition and Existence
Herve cheese’s existence has been challenged lately. Because the production process of Herve cheese is not considered hygienic by the modern standard, the Belgian FASFC (Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain) plans to ban the production of Herve cheese, practically to cease it from existence.
The agency argues that the old-school method of producing Herve cheese is considered unhygienic and dangerous because it leaves the trace of listeria bacteria, which are considered potentially lethal. The agency has also previously attempted to ban the production of rice tart, another traditional cuisine of the Belgians.
This decision meets strong opposition and criticism from the Belgian food industries, especially the locals who have been making the cheese for centuries. They argue that the current FASFC’s food security regulation is too strict to be enforced—so strict that if it is still enforced, there will be a lot of traditional Belgian foods that have to disappear due to the hygiene-related concern.
Where does Herve cheese come from? As long as it remains in existence, people will always know about it and the scenic town where it comes from. Hopefully, the modern standard of hygiene will not make the special taste, texture, and aroma of this cheese disappear soon.