This Man Is Aging Seaweed Cheese in a WWII Bunker
Nils Koster makes cheese out of milk and seaweed, and since August, his cheeses have been maturing in a World War II-era bunker.
Nils Koster is one half of the duo Drijfhout, a music teacher, and an orchestra conductor. In his spare time he makes cheese out of milk and seaweed. About a year ago, after many experiments, he began selling Vlielandse seaweed cheese. Since August, his cheeses have been maturing in a World War II-era bunker. We wanted to know what that's all about, so we gave the cheesemaker a call.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Nils. So, why do you make cheese with seaweed? Nils Koster: I wanted to make real "islander cheese," but we don't have our own dairy cattle on the island. So I decided to add seaweed to my cheese. The milk isn't from the island, but from Noorderland. I manually harvest the seaweed. Seaweed cheese is very healthy because there's all kinds of good stuff in there. The iodine makes it hard to process into a cheese, though. Iodine doesn't work with starter culture, so that's a big problem when you're making cheese. But after years of trying, cheesemaker Kaaslust from Veenhuizen and I finally succeeded. In Belgium, there's someone making cheese with seaweed from Breton, but our cheese is exported to the US.
In America they eat cheese with Dutch seaweed? That's right. I think it's funny they eat it over there, but I don't hear too much about it. An importer buys my cheese and then it's gone: out of sight, out of mind. I actually prefer organizing tastings, or being out on a market. I like being able to see people's reactions, and to be able tell them more about the product.
Do you make other cheeses as well? Yeah, I make older cheeses that have to ripen for at least seven months. Vlielander Bunker cheese, Vlielander Bunker Jersey cheese, and Vlielander Honey Clover cheese. The taste of these cheeses will be actually influenced by maturing inside the bunker.
What does sea air do for the cheese? Cheese absorbs smells and tastes from its surroundings. We hope the sea breeze will influence the cheese's taste.
So you don't know how it will taste yet? In Denmark they use sea air to mature cheese, and I tasted that. But you have to wait and see what you'll get. It's a matter of trying, really. If it works, we'll have found a way to produce cheese in a healthier way. Because if the cheese gets a saltier taste because of the sea air, we won't have to add more salt to it.
Isn't the seaweed salty enough already? Seaweed does indeed contain salt, reducing the need to add salt to the cheese. But because you eat the cheese as a young cheese, it doesn't have to mature or ripen very long. After about six weeks, the seaweed cheese is done, which isn't long enough to really taste the effects of the sea air. The bunker's effect will be more noticeable with the other cheeses.
The bunker was only recently reopened. Can people walk around there and check out the maturing cheeses now? Ha, no. The municipality thought it would be a shame to tear down the bunker, so in their zoning plan they stated it should have an educational function. On top of the bunker is an area where there used to be filter installations. I remodeled it into an exhibition area about the building's history. You can peer inside the cheese bunker through a hatch, but because of safety and hygiene, access is restricted. It's quite spectacular to look so far into the deep end, but the cheeses don't perform tricks or anything.
When can we taste the cheeses that are maturing here? The seaweed cheese is here already, but the other cheeses will take a while. They went in in August, and should ripen for another four months. So in March we'll know how the sea air will have influenced our cheese.
Thanks for speaking with me.