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An impressive selection of cheeses to satisfy any customer. [Donna Mah/China Daily]
Cheese, glorious cheese. Some people love it and can't imagine life without it, while others, well, they're perfectly happy living their cheese-free lives.
Will cheese become the "next big thing" - like coffee and wine - to be adopted by the Chinese?
Well, a new cheese store recently launched in Hong Kong is betting that with more education, China will become a large market for its large wheels of Dutch cheese from the Netherlands.
The pilot store called The Dutch Cheese and More, is a small, modern-looking retail outlet situated on Queen's Road Central, next to a traditional Chinese herbalist shop and near family-run stationery and curious shops.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Robert Schuddeboom, consul general of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Hong Kong said: "When people think of the Netherlands, they usually think of tulips, windmills and soccer and now they will also know that the Netherlands produces lots of delicious Dutch cheese."
Many people are aware that the Netherlands is rich in fresh produce and is a major producer of milk and dairy products, including some famous Dutch cheeses. With the melamine milk debacle in the recent past, perhaps imported milk and cheese will appeal to the masses.
So, what is Dutch cheese? Well, in general, Dutch cheeses are firm cheeses with textures that range from soft and smooth to hard and a bit crunchy.
Young cheeses are usually milder in flavor and the aged cheeses are more pungent and peppered with small crunchy salt crystals from the aging process and loss of moisture.
The Dutch Cheese and More sells a selection of aged, mature, young Gouda and farm cheese made with natural, untreated milk, plus specialty cheeses (goat, pesto, chili).
The cheese is cut from large wheels using a large cheese cutting blade, which brought a smile to many of the Dutch at the opening. The authentic presentation reminded many of "home".
For those with milk allergy or vegetarians, the goat cheese is recommended as it is less likely to cause a reaction and is made with microbial rennet. The young special chili cheese should appeal to Chinese tastes with its mild cheese flavor and spicy kick.
According to Bram Donkers, international spokesperson for The Dutch Cheese and More, the pilot store in Hong Kong has been an "instant hit" with more customers visiting the store than they had first estimated.
The US Dairy Export Council claims that cheese imports jumped 47 percent from 2009 to 2010 in China.
The people at The Dutch Cheese and More seem confident this is a continuing trend and that demand for their cheese will grow.
They are already looking for more retail locations in Hong Kong and plan to open 200 stores in Hong Kong and China over the next few years.
Their first foray into the mainland is expected to be a shop in Sea World in Shekou, Shenzhen later this year.
"We need to educate the Chinese customers about Dutch cheese and the ways to enjoy it. We think that rapid growth in quality wine sales strengthens our proposition for a huge Chinese market that is almost ready for exclusive, imported Dutch top level cheeses," said Donkers.
It makes sense then, that the "more" in "The Dutch Cheese and More" currently means wine. House branded, the wines are from the Cape region in South Africa, and are, according to the website (www.thedutch.hk), "based on the original Dutch agricultural heritage".
The group at The Dutch Cheese and More are passionate about cheese and wine and look ready to expand throughout the country.