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Dutch Matjes Herring

Matjes herring are young fish that have yet to reach sexual maturity, resulting in a particularly mild herring cured in a brine. Using a process going back to the Middle Ages in the Netherlands. Herring caught in the North Sea off Denmark or Norway before they begin mating are used. They have a relatively high fat content (over 16%) and the roe and milter are not yet formed.


In 1380, Willem Beukelszoon from the Dutch province of Zeeland invented gibbing, a process which removed the gills and part of the innards of the herring with a special knife, leaving only the pancreas behind. The enzymes in the pancreas then play a key role in fermenting the flesh and contribute to its taste. The fermenting is regulated by salting the herring. The more salt, the longer the herring can ferment. Matjes herring used to be much saltier than they are today. The herrings were stored in oak barrels packed in a lot of salt, which meant that as the year progressed, the fish would become ever saltier. The herring was then soaked in milk or water to neutralise the salt. Since 1980, the Netherlands has required that the herring be frozen at a min. -40°C when salting to protect against nematode infestation. This allows herring to produce year-round and with much less salt than before, making Dutch matjes herring especially mild and fresh-tasting.

The Matjes Cult

The auction of the first barrel of "Hollandse Nieuwe" matjes takes place every year at what has become a popular herring festival in Scheveningen. As much as €75,000 has been paid for the first tonne of fish (in 2006). The proceeds go to a good cause. The Algemeen Dagblad, a daily newspaper in the Netherlands, performs surprise matjes tests in Dutch fish shops. Every year, the fish retailers compete to be named the seller of the best matjes. But the best jury, of course, are the regulars since this is the only way to get good feedback about the taste of the matjes over time. After all, a fishmonger will only be proud if their matjes is good.

Quality and Production

The raw fish used to make matjes plays a major role, of course, and there is a science to that as well. For example, whether the barrel is allowed to thaw quickly or slowly plays a big role in the fermentation of the raw herring. The most important thing, however, is the filleting, which must be done quickly because hands are warm. Cleanliness and temperature are also very important. Very often, vacuum-packed matjes are offered as hand-made goods, but these are not hand-cut, but only quality-controlled by hand. Zeelandia's matjes, on the other hand, are hand-cut in the traditional way to ensure absolute quality and the best taste. They should taste salty, creamy, and slightly fermented and the flesh should be tender and robust in flavour. The best serving temperature is between 5 and 10 degrees.

For Zeelandia van Belzen, this is one of the most important products we make for the German market.

Hand-cut, perfectly fermented: we deliver the unique, genuine "Hollandse Nieuwe" matjes

 Dutch Matjes Herring can be found in our catalogue on page 55 »

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