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‘Old Amsterdam’ cheese. Not that old. Not from Amsterdam

‘Old Amsterdam’ — Award winning, quick ripened “marketing cheese”

Old Amsterdam Cheese: Not that old, and not from Amsterdam
Old Amsterdam Cheese: Not That Old, and Not From Amsterdam

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Take a look at this video, featuring nostalgic black-and-white film clips of Amsterdam.

More than 15 years ago, this 30-second TV commercial promoting Old Amsterdam cheese was aired in the Netherlands.

‘Old Amsterdam’ cheese TV commercial, using manipulated film material. Aired in 2007.

The fake history of ‘Old Amsterdam’ cheese

The antique film fragments — apparently from the 1920s and 1930s — include the brand name Old Amsterdam on a delivery van, a tram, a cart, and a shop window.

That’s interesting, because at the time these clips were filmed the brand name did not yet exist.

In fact, the song heard in the spot is older than Old Amsterdam cheese.

The text used in the commercial is cobbled together from phrases in the song Amsterdam, originally written and performed in 1975. The lyrics are not, as you might imagine, by an Amsterdam native, but by Flemish artist Kris de Bruyne. [More about the original song]

The commercial was produced in 2004. And the Old Amsterdam brand was registered in 1985.

The product’s newest TV spot, first aired in October, 2022, is equally anachronistic:

The latest TV commercial for Old Amsterdam cheese, aired in October, 2022.

The voice-over says:

In search of the taste he had once tasted as a child, the young Westland started a small cheese warehouse in Amsterdam. There, together with his brothers, he developed the award-winning flavor of Old Amsterdam. Spicy and yet creamy. And that’s how we’ve been making it for generations. Old Amsterdam: matured in taste, but young at heart.

Perhaps the commercials are intended to convey old-fashioned quality. But the company clearly hopes that you’ll think their cheese has a long history in the city. 1

For instance, Westland claims it has been making Old Amsterdam cheese “for generations.” However, the trademark was not registered until 1985.

Note that Westland’s cheese factory is located in Huizen, a 40 minute drive from Amsterdam.

And yes, the Westland Kaas company was founded in 1936, but that still does not mean they have made their flagship brand “for generations.”

Anyway, does all of this mean Westland faked the history of Old Amsterdam cheese?

You be the judge.

But let’s just say that at the very least some clever marketing types massaged and stretched the story to fit a desired narrative. And yes, Old Amsterdam does speak more to the imagination than Old Huizen.

The fake ‘Old Amsterdam’ cheese store

Fake Old Amsterdam Cheese shop
Screenshot from a 2022 TV commercial, showing a fake Old Amsterdam cheese shop at Egelantiersstraat in the Jordaan district. In the background is the iconic Westertoren.

Incidentally, Westland operates a number of cheese shops in Amsterdam — all of them in tourist-rich locations(!)

But the cheese store seen at the end of the commercial does not exist. A succession of businesses has occupied that location in the Jordaan district. Currently the store houses a coffeeshop called Koffie Nu. Westland filmed its commercial ahead of the remodeling work, creating a fake cheese shop.

Filming was also done at the nearby Noordermarkt.

Is ‘Old Amsterdam’ cheese fake as well?

As for the cheese itself, it is popular. Classed a Gouda cheese, over the years Old Amsterdam has garnered many international awards. People who like it usually mention the taste, along with the fact that the cheese is easier to slice than old cheeses, since it is less crumbly.

And yet, not everyone is impressed.

In an article titled Marketingkaas (“Marketing Cheese”) Dutch daily de Volkskrant reported the results of a survey among its readers.

Ansje Rooijackers calls the cheese ‘sweet, creamy, soft and tender’. “Not bad, quite the contrary. But for an aged cheese, I miss the salt crystals and the grainy texture that I do find with the aged cheese from the market.’ That is why she calls the cheese the ‘gladjakker’ [Amsterdam street language for an ‘unreliable person’] among the aged cheeses. ‘A fake oldie.’

There are more respondents who mention ‘fake cheese’.

‘An excellently promoted, dull factory cheese, which can only be saved with a lick of mustard,’ writes Jacques Verheij. ‘Too sweet, too greasy and bored quickly,’ says Anke Omloo. And Carli Di Bortolo reports that Old Amsterdam is ‘technically not old cheese’. That’s true, says cheese connoisseur Betty Koster of cheese shop L’Amuse in Santpoort, which does not sell the cheese on principle.

‘Old Amsterdam is only five months old, while a real old cheese has to sit for a year. Proostic acid is used for ripening, which speeds up the process. This allows the cheese to retain its moisture. I think it’s misleading the consumer. The cheese has little depth; the only good thing about it is the marketing. That award in America? Ah, in the land of the blind…”
Evelien van Veen, Marketingkaas, de Volkskrant, May 1, 2010
Interior of an Old Amsterdam cheese shop
The Old Amsterdam cheese shop at Damrak. Minus tourists. Minus locals as well.

In the same article, Henriëtte Westland – speaking for the family business — states that people claim, “It isn’t old, and that we inject it with something to speed up the ripening process. Not true. The cheese is old and we don’t use proostic acid. There is indeed a starter culture, but there are always starters in cheese. How long does the cheese mature? We don’t reveal that. Never. I don’t want to be secretive about it, but those are the tricks of the trade.”

Is ‘Old Amsterdam’ cheese old?

Many cheeses advertise with the phrase, “Ripened Naturally.” They are either ripened in their classic settings, be they barns, caves, or warehouses — or stored under carefully recreated conditions.

Old Amsterdam is ripened in a warehouse as well. But where traditional old cheeses age between 10-12 months, Westland’s old cheese ripens in just 8 months. So, Old Amsterdam is a factory made Gouda cheese, produced with an accelerated ripening process.

According to Westland, taste is more important than speed whether you can call cheese old or not.

“Old Amsterdam has the flavor profile of an old cheese and is made using our own patented process. Because of the sliceability of the cheese, as opposed to the often crumbly character of the average aged cheese, we are in a category of our own for many consumers. Of course, we are very proud of this.”

Cheese that is “ripened unnaturally?”

Loek de Loor, founder De Kaaskamer van Amsterdam
Loek de Loor, founder of De Kaaskamer van Amsterdam — a shop whose cheese experts sell 350+ cheeses from around Europe. This is a screenshot from a television program by the Keuringsdienst van Waarde — a consumer information program.

In a broadcast titled, Natuurgerijpt (“Ripened naturally”), the Keuringsdienst van Waarde 2 — a consumer information TV program — asked the founder of a famous cheese shop in Amsterdam whether there is such as thing as “ripened unnaturally.”

Teun van de Keuken: “So is there something like ‘unnaturally ripened’ cheese?”

Loek de Loor, founder of De Kaaskamer van Amsterdam (cheese experts selling 350+ cheeses from around Europe), answered, “If you take, for instance Old Amsterdam — that is a cheese that is aged faster. That’s a trick. That is smart…”

Teun: “Yeah it says ‘Old,” so think that’s Old Cheese…”

Loek: “No, than you are being fooled, because it is not old cheese. In the trade that’s called quick ripening. That is made in such a way that it seems old faster.” He picks up half a wheel of cheese. “Look. This is old. This is an old cheese. This one has ripened two-and-a-half years.”

Teun: “So is the special acid they use for ‘Old Amsterdam’ only meant to produce something as fast as possible that gives me the idea that I’m eating this [pont at the old cheese]?”

Loek: “Yes. It’s marketing.”

If you understand Dutch, you may enjoy watching the program mentioned above here.

Young, Mature, or Old cheese

Oddly, when it comes to cheese the designations young, mature, extra mature and old are not protected by law.

The Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority states that the terms ‘old’, ‘young’ and ‘matured’ are not legally determined with regard to the period of maturation. These terms are more related to the properties of the cheese.

In other words, if most people think a particular cheese tastes mature, that’s is how it is sold.

It is not mandatory to indicate on the packaging how long a cheese has matured, but if it is stated it must be true.

That said, cheese age designations usually follow this pattern:

DesignationRipening Time
Young cheese4 weeks
Semi-cured cheese8-10 weeks
Cured cheese16-18 weeks
Extra cured cheese7-8 months
Old cheese10-12 months
Perennial cheese12 months or more
Cheese ripening times

Old Amsterdam cheese – kind of old, but it’s not for us

So is Old Amsterdam cheese old? In a way, yes. It is just ripened — aged — faster than traditional cheeses. Legally there is nothing to prevent the company from playing semantics games. In this case, ‘Old’ is old because Westland thinks it tastes old.

And using ‘Amsterdam’ instead of Huizen? Again, brilliant marketing.

By the way, not unimportant is this story: A short ripening time reduces the costs for storage in a warehouse. In addition the cheese needs to be turned less often. Less cost = higher profits.

As for us: we love old cheeses. Fortunately, in Amsterdam we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to traditional cheese shops. That means we never have to resort to eating ‘Old Amsterdam.’

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Amsterdam and cheese: things to do

An excursion to Zaanse Schans, an open air museum (where the houses are still occupied), is something not to be missed. Among other things, you will see — and be able to visit — working windmills, and learn about cheese making (and taste cheese). One of the top attractions: a wooden shoe making demonstration.

Where to buy ‘Old Amsterdam’ cheese

Westland says “Old Amsterdam is ripened to perfection and regularly checked for flavour. Old Amsterdam can only be sold when flavour and quality meet the strict standards of our quality control. The result is a cheese of exceptionally high and consistent quality, that cuts with ease. Just like the famous wines of distinction, Old Amsterdam is now recognised with ‘Premier Grand Cru Classé’. Old Amsterdam is outstanding in warm dishes and a delight just on its own.”

You can buy the cheese in the company’s various tourist-oriented stores found in Amsterdam’s tourist hot spots.

But you’re probably better off buying it at a local supermarket such as the ubiquitous Albert Heijn. After all, who wants to buy cheese at a tourist trap? [That’s one of those things not to do in Amsterdam]

Many specialty cheese shops do not carry Old Amsterdam, for reasons that should be clear by now. Walk into such a cheese shop, and you’ll find plenty of reasons to buy another, more artisinal brand of cheese anyway.

However, if you’re still in the market, you can also get yourself a pound or half a wheel of Old Amsterdam cheese at Amazon.com.

The ‘Old Amsterdam’ cheese song

By they way, the lyrics of the Old Amsterdam cheese song in the 2007 TV commercial translate as follows:

You can spend hours there
The parks are green
You can walk along the canals
That’s something you really ought to do
You are free as a bird
Because everything is possible there
In every human heart
You find Amsterdam

Enjoy the full version of Kris De Bruyne’s song:

Amsterdam, by Flemish artist Kris De Brunye

What Kris De Bruyne’s Amsterdam song actually is about

The text makes clear that De Bruyne is singing about a lost love he frequently visited in Amsterdam. Freely translated:

You can buy books there
That you seldom find here
You can walk along the canals there
Your hair loose in the wind

You can spend hours there
The parks are green
You can see Van Gogh
That’s something you really ought to do

You are free as a bird 3
Because everything is allowed
So close
And yet so far away is Amsterdam

Because over there in Amsterdam
You are so far away from me
And yet I feel Amsterdam
So painfully close to me

In the Concert Hall
There often is a celebration
You remember, don’t you, that even Randy Newman
Played there for us

Who of us could suspect
That you there all by yourself
Have found a hiding place
We used to go there together

Who of us is free as a bird
Who of us who still can do anything
So close
And yet so far away is Amsterdam


More Amsterdam Tourist Information

This DutchAmterdam article was first published on January 11, 2008. It is updated from time to time.

Notes:

  1. “Westland says in a response that in the commercial we look at the origin of the parent company Westland, not that of the Old Amsterdam brand. ‘Westland Kaas, then Westland brothers, was founded in 1936 by three brothers. The story is based on one of the brothers who went with his mother to the Noordermarkt in the 1920s and tasted cheese, which inspired the later Old Amsterdam. This is in the 80’s.’ The commercial does show the real story, according to Westland. ‘The cheese that the young Westland tastes in the commercial is therefore not Old Amsterdam. He later created that himself.'” – Lucas Boon, Old Amsterdam vertelt verhaal achter het merk in nieuwe campagne, Adformatie, October 11, 2022. [Google Translate version. Original in Dutch]
  2. The name Keuringdienst van Waarde is a parody on the name Keuringsdienst van Waren, the former name of the Nederlandse Voedsel- en Warenautoriteit (Netherlands Food and Consumer Products Safety Authority). The authority monitors food quality and product safety
  3. De Bruyne’s “vogelvrij” — translated here as “free as a bird” — is something of an anomaly. It is clear what the author meant, but the word literally means ‘outlawed’ — with the specific, though outdated, connotation that anyone and everyone is free to kill one so declared. Poetic license, perhaps.
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