There’s more to Holland than windmills, canals, clogs and tulips; It is also home to some of the tastiest cheese in the world! And the Dutch should know- they eat an impressive 15kilos every year! Whether you’re a fan of the holey, gooey, hard or melty dairy, the Green Heart of Holland will have something to make you go mmmm.
Even if you’re not a cheese super fan (like myself), you will probably have heard of Gouda – the semi-hard, yellow cheese, which has a cartoon-like characteristic. But you may not know that it isn’t actually produced in the town of Gouda; Its demand outgrew the pretty little town and it’s now made in nearby villages, but thanks to its tasty reputation, the townsfolk decided to hang onto the name!
However, the historic city of Gouda has kept its original features- windmills, gabled houses, quaint alleyways, cobbled streets and idyllic canals, and cycling residents, is the home of the weekly cheese market which takes place on Thursday morning during the summer (April – August).
The market began life in 1395, with the distinctive Gouda cheese wheels delivered by horse and cart, before being sold in a traditional manner in front of Gouda’s beautiful old City Hall. The original city hall still exists and is the oldest Gothic building in the Netherlands- completed in 1405 and is as impressive as the cheese wheels.
Nowadays vendors take over the town square and bring a variety of cheese, fish, homewares, nic nacs and clothes, as well as Gouda’s infamous hot gooey waffle- the stroopwafel. With plenty of restaurants and bars in the piazza, the terraces are a great place to soak up the sunshine and people watch.
Gouda also offers a range of boutique shops selling fashions as well as cheese memorabilia. The Kaaswinkeltje is a must for sampling a huge array of Gouda cheese including combinations fusing lavender, red pesto and cumin. And if you have any space left, head to the Museum cafe garden for a High Cheese Tea, which includes a selection of delicious cheese sandwiches, cheese soup, savoury scones and cheese spread, with a side of grapes.
From markets to farms, to cycling, it is easy to spend a couple of days enjoy the south of Holland as a local. So close to major cities, the green heart of Holland is easily reachable from Utrecht, Rotterdam, and The Hague – just 30 minutes by train, and Amsterdam is only 45 minutes away from Gouda, so you could base yourself elsewhere and pop along for a day trip and enjoy the slower pace of life. Hire a bicycle and visit a traditional cheese farm to meet the cows who produce your cheese, and buy some direct from the supplier. There are still plenty of active cheese farmers in Krimpenerwaard who welcome visitors and prepare to be impressed by the artisan combinations.
The other two towns in the cheesey triangle are Woerden and Bergambacht, which are part of a region called Krimpenerwaard just south of Amsterdam. Visit family run dairy farm De Twee Hoeven for a tour of the working farm, where you can see (and pet) the cows before being shown the production process. The farm has been around for four centuries and has been run by the den Boer family for generations.
With flat land and inclement weather, the grass is perfect for grazing and happy cows mean happy milk; It also means that vegetables are plentiful, and this region of Holland is home to several experimental restaurants with tasting menus that tickle even the fussiest of taste buds.
Restaurant De Nieuwe Polderkeuken is tucked away in the sleepy village of Stolwijk; Founded by food lovers Frank Streefland and Sebastian Paliama, the love for fresh food is evident in the changing weekly menu. Try the Tasting menu in the upstairs dining room for a truly magical experience, and you will be treated to dishes like pumpkin, leek, vadouvan, black garlic and mascarpone; Followed by scallop, egg yolk, oyster and blood orange, which tempt and tantalise in equal measure; With superb presentation, and excellent wine pairing, this is almost enough to warrant a return visit to the area.
For a completely different experience, Reeuwijkhe is home of the stunning ‘t Vaantje restaurant. A hikers and bikers paradise after a hard day exploring, the large terrace overlooking the lake is buzzing during the summer months. With direct access to the river, you can rent an electric boat from the owners, or just enjoy coffee, lunch or dinner. With indoor and outdoor seating, it is romantic and friendly in equal measure with a varied child-friendly menu.
The Bistronoom in Woerden also deserves a mention. Modern cuisine in a modern setting, the glass restaurant is filled with living plants and offers a range of organic plant-based food, fish and cocktails. With an experimental menu described with love by the owners, inventive decor and crockery, it is no wonder this place is popular with the “IT” crowd.
When you’re in Woerden on your cheese adventure, you can’t ignore The Goudse Waag. Home of the Gouda Tourist Information Office, the neighbouring building is now a cheese and artisanal crafts museum, where you can learn about the history of the industry. There are three floors of intriguing exhibits on the history of cheesemaking, advertising, and memorabilia, and you can even weigh yourself in cheese……
And to finish of your new found passion for cheese, you should definitely snap up some Boska Holland (the original cheese accessory brand). Available everywhere, its reputation began in 1896 when the first product was made. From knives to raclettes to curlers and fondue sets, this family owned company just keeps on giving to the cheese lovers around the world. If you needed an excuse to buy some cheese, one of their stunning graters will do the trick (they also work on apples, carrots, chocolate too…)
With so much to do in this pretty part of Holland, you might be tempted to pop over for your monthly cheese shop. Or is that just me?
3441 AV Woerden
GOUDA MUSEUM CAFE
DE TWEE HOEVEN CHEESE FARM
2851 LB Haastrecht
‘T VAANTJE REEUEIJK RESTAURANT
2811 HK Reeuwijk
DE NIEUWE POLDERKEUKEN
2821 AR Stolwijk