This post on queso de bola was first published on 18 December 2005, but I am re-posting it here for the benefit of folks who haven’t previously come across it, and who are about to purchase their QdB in the weeks ahead…
How did a dry, salty and sharp Dutch cheese originally from the city of Edam, shaped like a ball and coated in red paraffin become standard fare at Christmas gatherings in this far off Catholic country controlled by the Spaniards??? I really donâ€™t know. Some superficial rooting around the internet yielded the basics of the cheeseâ€™s origin, the fact that it was hardy and often shipped to distant locales such as Dutch controlled Batavia or Jakarta, Indonesia, and that it got saltier and drier with age. Very close to another well-known cheese named Gouda, Edam has a lower fat and moisture content and unique shape which apparently worked better on long voyages at sea. The balls were sometimes used as cannonballs in the Caribbean (and they donâ€™t only come wrapped in red wax but also black and yellow)! Others also cite a story that Edam got salty since they were used as ballast on ships and were sloshing about in sea water. In the late 1600â€™s and early 1700â€™s the Dutch were probably sending lots of Edam to Indonesia, but how they made their way to the Philippines is a mystery to meâ€¦
At any rate, history aside, Edam transformed to the more hoity toity â€œQueso de Bola,â€ and somehow won a place in the hearts, stomachs and Noche Buena tables that were laden not only with local delicacies but more likely, highly difficult to obtain imported goodies such as grapes, hams, chocolates, etc. Frankly, I never understood the love affair as I always found QdB to be a bit smelly, a bit off, incredibly dry and way too salty. Why I find the same attributes in Parmigiano Reggiano to be appealing is bizarre, I know. But since QdB was one of the most mentioned items in my survey of Christmas goodies, I decided to attempt a more than superficial review. I bought four different QdBâ€™s in the groceries and tried two more from specialty food shops and this post will outline my personal opinions on the cheeses sampled. You do not have to agree with me, but these are my comments. On the six different cheeses (wedges or slices in the photo here are as follows): lower right hand corner is an aged Edam, a fresh Edam, a Marca Pato QdB, a Marca Pina QdB, a Magnolia QdB, and finally, a Margnolia Gold (going clockwise). I just recently saw a Che-Vital QdB but didnâ€™t bother to try that one as the thought of Che-Vital making good cheese is difficult to conjure upâ€¦
Let me start from worst to best of those sampledâ€¦ The Magnolia QdB was saltier than its sister Gold Brand and appeared less creamy or soft. It possessed a very yellow orange tinge and appeared to be the least natural of all cheeses sampled. Why bother to buy QdB, you might do as well to buy their processed cheese food which is only partially cheese and gosh knows what else. Thatâ€™s the key perhaps, this is a composite cheeseâ€¦yikes! The Magnolia Gold brand was strangely soft and malleable as though fresh cheese, which we know it isnâ€™t as the packaging clearly states â€œprocessed cheese food.â€ I have visions of big vats of cheez whiz being formed into cannon ball shapes and coated with waxâ€¦ The gold brand had no expiry date (what?!) and seemed to be a drier version of their boxed cheese foods. Though it seemed creamier than the QdB brand, this may just mean it has a higher water content and is therefore wetter. The Magnolia QdB cost PHP299.25 per KILO and the Magnolia Gold was PHP332.25 per kilo. I suspect this or its cheaper relations are what most commercial bakers put atop their ensaimadas. I donâ€™t think I would ever voluntarily purchase these cheeses again. After tasting these I promptly grated the rest and made cheese pimiento spreads. If this were the gong show, both of these cheeses got the GONG a few minutes ago.
The Marca Pato Brand is often mentioned in the same breath as the Marca Pina. This is a salty QdB as well but not as salty as the Marca Pina that I tried. It is also more crumbly than the processed cheese foods. Take a good look at the wedges above to see the difference in texture. The color is also paler and I hope, more natural. Like the Marca Pina, this cheese is actually made in Holland and imported during the holidays. It had more of a buttery after taste and some folks prefer this to the more salty Marca Pina. At PHP 487 a kilo, it is roughly 50% more than Magnolia but the difference is worth it, in my opinion.
The Marca Pina brand of QdB brought back memories of childhood attempts to have some of this Christmas favoriteâ€¦ it was dryer than most and crumbly as well. By my taste buds, it was the saltiest cheese sampled and it had that â€œQdBâ€ taste as it has been burned into my memory banks from long, long ago. It had more complex and nuttier flavor than the cheese food versions and a strong aroma and classic indentation on one side of the ball. Made in Holland, this cheese is imported into the Philippines under the Marca Pina brand. Apparently, it is now intentionally made saltier by Dutch manufacturers to meet Philippines taste bud expectations. At PHP571 a kilo, it was the priciest of the â€œlocal brandsâ€ but still far less than imported Edam. This QdB had an expiry date and I imagine if it aged any longer you could use it as a replacement for salt in some dishesâ€¦
Out of curiosity, I went out and purchased some good fresher Edam at one of the chi-chi specialty food storesâ€¦ the Hollandia Edam was a whopping PHP1,200 a kilo (less than the aged version at PHP1,615 a kilo; not worry, I only bought 100 grams)! This was the youngest of all the cheeses I triedâ€¦as close to fresh as I suppose it can get in Manilaâ€¦ the cheese was softer, more elastic with a mild flavor. Not a cloying saltiness but saltier than most cheeses I have tried. I can see that our QdB evolved from thisâ€¦ I also aged a large chunk of store-bought Edam for about 10 weeks in the fridge and it was still elastic and relatively smooth but saltier than the freshâ€¦as the cheese gets older, its flavor gets more pronounced.
The bottom line? If you are looking for the â€œtraditionalâ€ Filipino QdB, my vote would have to go to the Marca Pina or Pato; which I would say rate about the same, though the Pato is cheaper. I can have either of these in only small doses and I found they were otherwise useful on ensaimadasâ€¦my theory is that everyone buys them out of reflex and they donâ€™t actually eat all of it and so it MUST end up on ensaimadas, in cheese pimiento spread, etc. I personally preferred the fresher or even aged Edam, though more expensive and unlike the expected harder, saltier QdB. The excessive saltiness of the QdB must be balanced by the excessive sweetness of the hams at the same Noche Buena spreadsâ€¦ But now with air freight, rather than making do with QdB, give me a triple cream cheese like a Pierre Robert anydayâ€¦ Substitute uses for an unwanted QdBâ€¦ replacement duckpin bowling ball, shotput, deadly weapon, ball and chain for incarcerated person, etc. I jest. It really is beginning to look a lot like Christmasâ€¦