Battle of the Balls…

How did a dry, salty and sharp Dutch cheese originally from the city of Edam, balls1shaped 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 don’t know. Some superficial rooting around the internet yielded the basics of the cheese’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 don’t only come wrapped in red wax but also black and yellow)! Others also site a story that Edam got salty since they were used as ballast on ships and were sloshing about in sea water. In the late 1600’s and early 1700’s the Dutch were probably sending lots of Edam to Indonesia, but how they made their way to the Philippines is a mystery to me…

At any rate, history aside, Edam transformed to the more hoity toity “Queso de Bola,” 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. balls2Frankly, 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 QdB’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 didn’t bother to try that one as the thought of Che-Vital making good cheese is difficult to conjure up…

Let me start from worst to best of those sampled… balls4The 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. That’s the key perhaps, this is a composite cheese…yikes! The Magnolia Gold brand was strangely soft and malleable as though fresh cheese, which we know it isn’t as the packaging clearly states “processed cheese food.” I have visions of big vats of cheez whiz being formed into cannon ball shapes and coated with wax… 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 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 don’t think I would ever voluntarily purchased 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. balls5This 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 balls 3 have some of this Christmas favorite… it was dryer than most and crumbly as well. By my taste buds, it was the saltiest cheese sampled and it had that “QdB” 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 “local brands” 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 dishes…

Out of curiosity, I went out and purchased some good fresher Edam at one of the balls6chi-chi specialty food stores… 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 tried…as close to fresh as I suppose it can get in Manila… 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 this… 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 fresh…as the cheese gets older, its flavor gets more pronounced.

The bottom line? If you are looking for the “traditional” 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 ensaimadas…my theory is that everyone buys them out of reflex and they don’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 spreads… But now with air freight, rather than making do with QdB, give me a triple cream cheese like a Pierre Robert anyday… Substitute uses for an unwanted QdB… 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 Christmas…


29 Responses

  1. I definitely agree with your choice of QdB – but htat’s because these are the brands I grew up with. If you find yourself with an oversupply of QdB after Christmas, grate then mixing it with butter, spread in good old pan de sal and broil until the cheese is brown. Just don’t try bitting into it while the cheese is bubbling – it can hurt.

  2. I always hated – absolutely hated – queso de bola when I was growing up in Manila. I hated the taste (too salty, and maybe too complex for my young taste buds) and the smell. But you’re right… I think it’s a bit funny that I love a good parmigiano reggiano these days, even though it’s also very salty and quite stinky.

    I read somewhere that “real” Edam cheese (which I guess is edam that’s not reformulated for Philippine taste buds) is very similar to the French mimolette – a dry, orange, salty, and nutty cheese. I really love mimolette… so maybe that’s a sign that it’s time to try queso de bola again. Haven’t had any since we left the Philippines.

  3. i’ve heard that story about using edam as cannonballs; i believe it was in a battle between the argentinians and uruguayans, so i can only assume from that that edam was a staple for sea voyages for all latino wayfarers. the portuguese travelled through the americas to the philippines and back regularly from the mid-16th century onwards, and possibly took edam with them on the voyages.

    i would think that the portuguese would take a liking to edam because it is very similar to a native cheese known as flamengo; rather interestingly, it’s full name is queijo de bola flamengo, which would explain why edam is known as queso de bola in the philippines.

  4. I’m a loyalist Marca Pina qdb eater. To offset the cost, I get the smaller version (only P370+) since that lasts throughout the season, and I eat it straight. Good with hot pan de sal and black coffee, no ham needed.

  5. the outcome of your QDB taste test was predictable (why magnolia bothers to make QDB is beyond me, as their version is not even close to the real thing. it sucks.), but the test was still a good idea– always wanted to know the diff bet marca pato and pina.

    interestingly, the mexicans (eg campeche, yucatan) also eat qdb, and they have a dish called bola de queso relleno, where they hollow out a whole queso de bola (same aged variety as ours) and fill it with a meat-based stuffing along w tomato, capers, olives, hard boiled eggs and raisins (soundas like a picadillo– or arroz a la cubana!

    they also put the stuffed qdb mixture into tacos. so santos, you may be right about the portuguese connection, though i suspect it may have something to do with the manila-acapulco galleon trade as well, as the 200 year galleon trade was the source of so many cross-cultural exchanges (eg mexican ceviche = filipino kinilaw, champurrado/champorado, pampanga tamales, a town called mexico, pampanga etc etc) between mexico and the philippines.

    another interesting thing to try is to make a pesto with good ol’ QDB. Thats the way it’s done in my mother’s house and people love it. In fact margarita fores’ mom orders it from my mother’s house when she wants pesto, hahaha. shhh.

    As for the comparison to parmesan, malayo. Parmesan has a creamier, milder, nutty flavour, compared to the harsher, more bitey tang of QDB. QDB also, to me, has a slightly bitter after-taste, which is why i really didn’t like it as a kid, but i do eat it now, most often melted in a frying pan, semi ‘frico’ style, then straight into a pan de sal.

  6. oh and if anyone needs a recipe for leftover queso de bola, try this:

    mix grated QDB with some best foods mayo (preferably US version)–enough mayo to make it spreadable, some vinegar (trust me, it works), and some white pepper, and spread thickly on pre-toasted bread (any kind), then stick under broiler til golden brown and bubbly. delish…

  7. This reminds me, I still have an excess of the MP QdB I bought last year, used occasionally on top of vegetable soup (a recipe I posted in my blog).

    MM, do you think it’s still safe to eat my QdB now that it’s nearing its anniversary? I don’t know the expiry date anymore. It’s already as hard as a pinball, but I can still manage to grate it.

  8. oscar, a year sounds a little old though the expiry dates on my Marca Pina put it many months away…I suppose if you grate it it might still be okay but I would be worried about the ancient cheese…

  9. i never liked queson de bola until my older brother told me to fry it. now i can’t get enough of it.

  10. Since I am in Holland, I can give my best shot on this cheese phenomenon.

    Within the Edam and Gouda cheeses, there are still many sub varieties in them but the main groups are categorized into:

    1. AGE of the cheese – Which are also sub categorized to their ages such as: young cheese, old cheese and very old cheese. They even label most cheese packs here the number of months since there are indeed picky cheese eaters.
    2. If there are HERBS mixed – Also sub categorized to the types of herbs mixed. Cumin seeds are popular.

    All cheeses above have their specialty and assigned eating activity.

    Young cheeses, Edam or Gouda, although Gouda is more popular in this, are mainly eaten sliced thinly for breakfast and lunch with sliced wheat bread.

    The older ones are also eaten by die hard cheese eaters with sliced wheat bread but this type of cheese are mainly used to garnish biscuits, toasts and small little things as what we call them hors d’oeurves to served guests during an afternoon with tea or after the evening coffee with wine.

    The very older cheeses are just diced and eaten directly. Some combine these with pickles, olives, tapas and whatever you can think of. Voila, pika-pika.

    With regard to how these cheeses arrived in the Philippines? Well the Netherlands is the longest trading country that has relations with Asia, mostly in Indonesia. The Dutch also fought with the Spaniards in Philippine territory but lost. And the Netherlands is the strongest economic partner of the Philippines in Europe and the 3rd strongest economic partner ranked after the USA, Japan and China. There are many Dutch businesses in the Philippines but like most Dutch, they are by nature low profile.

    So, I am not really surprised too because dairy [cheese, milk and butter] are the biggest export goods of this country to the world. Our fastfood giants there buy their dairy here [have seen the packing]. And knowing their trading history and as you have said, their occupation in Indonesia, they would for sure leave a mark in the Philippines.

    The red candle wax protective coating of the cheese I believe means PRODUCT FOR EXPORT, as explained to me by some Dutch people. The local cheeses here are in yellow candle wax coating. They used color coding to determine the end supply chain process of the cheeses.

    My gut feel is that, the Filipinos adapted this Queso de Bola thing for Christmas because of the color – RED. Red is a Christmas thing.

    Anyway, my apologies for this long post, haha. Maybe I will make a similar discussion about this soon in my site. But thanks for the space!

  11. Dutched Pinay thanks for all those insights…isn’t it amazing that there are pinoys/pinays all over the planet?

  12. I’ve loved QdB since childhood — I had an uncle who loved introducing the children to cheeses and QdB was smack dab in the middle of the stinky to nearly tasteless mild range and us younglings found it perfect.
    I still love the stuff and like pairing it with another much-maligned Christmas regular — fruit cake. I can think of nothing better to start off a cold January morning than having a slice of fruit cake, a hunk of QdB and a hot mug of barako.

  13. Slice it up and stick it in the microwave for about three minutes–until it bubbles up, then let cool and enjoy. My husband likes to spice it up with basil et al…oh yum.

  14. “…I can think of nothing better to start off a cold January morning than having a slice of fruit cake, a hunk of QdB and a hot mug of barako.”

  15. All I can say is Queso de Bola is one of my favorite cheese I remember everytime my mom bought the queso de bola oh gosh! I always snack them all the time never get tired of it…In other words ” QUESO DE BOLA IS AWESOME” the more the cheese get’s older the more it taste good…

  16. MM i can’t get enough of your website, di ko natapos last night, kaya i continue reading sa office. (ssh my boss not around) everybody in my family loves QdB (marca pina only) my dad will start having it last week of october which will last until all saint’s day and then we will have 2 one for christmas and new year. we always eat it with pandesal and fried too. kaya naman every year for the last quarter palaging mataas ang blood sugar at cholesterol niya.

  17. The story I heard is that during a key battle of the Spanish-American War of 1898, which preceded the Philippine War of Independence, the Filipinos and the Americans were running out of cannonballs. A local genius hit on the idea of using the hard aged Edam as shot. It carried the day, and in homage became part of the rich Christmas tradition in the Philippines.

    A French version of the cheese, La Mimolette, was reputedly General De Gaulle’s favorite cheese. (I wonder why?) De Gaulle also complained (referring to France) “How can you be expected to govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?”

  18. Marca Piña is usually given to my Mom as a Christmas gift from clients. It gets smaller and smaller every year, probably because of the price. Haven’t actually tried Marco Pato, our family loves the saltiness of Marca Piña

  19. Hi Market Man…nice read on the QdeB…I remember writing about a certain brand from Holland, in a ball tin can…very expensive. My folks remember the name, in fact, when my father was alive and i was interviewing him about Qde B, he suddenely had the epiphany of remembering the name of that expensive cheese “na de lata”…and he immediately drove over to Hi Top to look for it. Unfortunately the last one was taken (kontilang ang stock) and I finally got to trace some more stocks in Cherry Foodarama…you know what, when I tasted it, lasang Marca Pina na rin…but because it was real expensive (1,600.00 then in 1989) sumarap na rin!!! Heh-heh.
    nancy (If and when I get the name, I shall write again…but if you do get the name , pls post it.
    PPS: How to tell if you got the name: get close to a rich looking elderly couple and say the name. if they turn towards you – Bingo!

  20. It is not uncommon that export cheese is slightly reformulated for export purposes, also though ‘Edam’ is a city where the Edammer cheese originates from, it in fact is the process that makes the cheese and it is very wellpossible to make Edam, outside Edam and even outside the Netherlands (which I am sure happens). When I was young, I had a Holiday job in a cheesefactory where both Gouda and Edammer cheeses were made. This may result in slight variations in taste. Personally, being Dutch, Edam is not my favourite, as it is too dry to my taste, but yes it does make handy gifts as they look colourfull. Gouda cheese is an alltogether softer and better tasting cheese and I think that is most universally eaten in the Netherlands. Many other cheese look a lot like the flat round Gouda cheese.
    I read someone found it pungent ;=) Can’t imagine. Try smelling French cheeses (basically greese with fungus) or the German ‘Leichefinger'(=fingers of a corpse).
    I have heard the cannonball story when I was young, at school. I think that so many stories that are told, it is absolute bogus. Any ship that runs out of cannonballs in those days would load the canon with shrapnell (nails, chains).

  21. is it ok to buy Qdb now though im going to give on January 2 next year? i’m worried that i might get busy in the upcoming weeks so im planning to buy it earlier

  22. joey, it should be okay to buy now for January giveaways, but you ave to kep it in a cool place, like an airconditioned room. If you stick it in the fridge, the red cellophane tends to get moist and bleed…

  23. Like you, I never liked queso de bola. But if you wait for it to harden (the best part is the outer layer), wrap it into a lumpia and fry it, it is the most wonderful thing for your nose to behold! And the taste is exquisite!

  24. Our favorite cheese is called luncheon cheese in cans. I used to get it from a chinese store in Dasmarinas, Manila. I do not know who manufacture it and where we can order the cheese here in the US.

  25. And once you had run out of shrapnel? Right, you go to the next hardest item on hand–those stinky Dutch cheeseballs. As another post noted they were used in the Caribbean as shot as well. The Christmas custom is in remembrance of that victory over the Spanish, but only a few old-timers are still around whose grandparents told THEM the story–totally oral history. The fact that General DeGaulle’s favorite cheese was the French equivalent is not an accident–a General WOULD prefer a cheese that had been used in warfare. Filipinos are not big fans of dairy, hardly any Asians are (maybe Mongolians). It’s one of those things that is so outrageously unlikely, it HAS to be true.

    Battle of the Balls? As we say in California, “it’s the cheese.”

  26. Enjoyed knowing about the Filipino traditions and recipies in this site. Recently brought some Queso de Bola Holandes that Dad sent to share in the office and a Filipino employee was telling me it reminded her of cheese she had eaten as a child in the Islands. QdB is also a favorite for centuries in Puerto Rico. Eaten there all year, not just for Navidad. The favorite brand there being Gallo Azul (apparently the same preferred in Yucatan, Mexico). Seems more as to the Spaniards brought it with them wherever they settled in the 1500’s and thereafter. It caught on strongly in some places (Filipines, Mexico, Puerto Rico) and not in others. As far as I am concerned, the taste is secondary to the universal great memories brought by eating it — childhood days sharing time with grandparents and close family members.



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