Producer: Michiel Cassuto
Where: Ede, Gelderland
Michiel Cassuto has a beautiful farm, beautiful cows and beautiful looking cheese. Oh, and it tastes great too. Brandrood, if you will, is the Dutch version of a Gruyère: it comes in great wheels, has a natural rind (which makes for beautiful colors and patterns) and has the consistency and flavor of those cheeses from farther south. Like the other cheeses from the Gelderse Vallei, they are a far cry from the yellow stuff you can buy in pre-wrapped chunks at Schiphol airport; think of filet mignon vs. hot dog – it may both be meat (sort of) but it not quite the same. Brandrood has a bold flavor that lasts, some nuttiness and a bit of a sharper edge, but all very well balanced.
The farmer, who does everything himself, writes on his website that he grew up wanting to milk cows. And boy, does he live his dream. The Brandrood is a cow breed (“fire-red”) that has been around for centuries, but almost died out. They are beautiful beasts, and when I asked Mr. Cassuto (the name is Italian only because long-time-ago ancestors came from Italy, Michiel is as Dutch as vanillevla) if I could get a little closer to the cows to take a picture he casually suggested I should just climb over the fence, mind the cow pies and get as close as I wanted.
Cassuto has about two dozen of them, there aren’t many more than about a thousand still around. They do not yield an awful lot of milk so for many years they have not been bred a great deal and that has threatened their survival, hence their inclusion on the list of the Slow Food Foundation of Biodiversity. Leaving the farm, itself hundreds of years old, I felt good about the Brandrood’s chances of long-term survival – if you have friends like Michiel Cassuto who’s clearly in it as much for the love of it as for the money, things are looking up.