When it comes to Dutch clichés, cheese follows clogs, windmills and tulips on the list of things you’re most likely to see during your holiday. However, just because something is slightly stereotypical, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it.
So, if you’re a fan of fromage, a connoisseur of cheese or crazy about kaas (that’s cheese in Dutch), we have some fantastic attractions for you to seek out when travelling to the Netherlands.
To start your journey, how about learning a bit about the history of cheese production and why it has become a key part of the culture in this part of the world? The largest and most comprehensive cheese museum in the country is in Alkmaar and will really help you brush up on your knowledge. You’ll see machinery used during manufacture on farms and in the factory, before learning why the latter superseded the former. Trace the process from cow to curds and, of course, taste some of the finished product.
Like in Alkmaar, the cheese museum in Gouda is housed within the traditional weighing house that has witnessed cheese trading for hundreds of years. Goudse Waag has a rich history to share and also gives you an insight into other local crafts like candle dipping and Gouda pottery. Regular demonstrations are offered and there’s a ground floor shop where you can buy a wheel for yourself.
Finally, Amsterdam also offers an interesting cheese museum. Although the smallest on this list, it is free to enter and features a wider variety of cheeses than the other two mentioned above. Prize exhibits include the most expensive cheese slicer in the world and visitors are encouraged to join in the fun by donning traditional cheese farmer dress.
If you’re less concerned with the production and history of cheese and more interested in eating it in the here and now, the Dutch cheese markets are calling your name. However, if you think that these events are simply about haggling for dairy over a wooden table then you’re very much mistaken. Each of the markets in Alkmaar, Gouda and Edam puts on a complete re-enactment of the process that used to take place.
The cheese is brought in via horse and cart (or rowing boat in Edam’s case) and is tested for quality before the traditionally dressed ‘Kaasdragers’ (cheese porters) carry it on handbarrows to be weighed. The scales are tipped at the historic weigh houses and farmers shake hands with the traders to signify a successful sale. It’s a fantastic spectacle that attracts crowds in their droves and really adds to the authentic atmosphere around the town square.
The markets are held throughout the summer months, but it’s important to check dates and times if you’re keen to see the procession for yourself. In Alkmaar, it happens every Friday at 10am from April to September. If you’re visiting Gouda, be sure to visit on a Thursday morning between April and August. And, if Edam is your choice of destination, there are eight morning markets and one Saturday evening event, in July and August.
Whilst markets and museums allow you to see how cheese is produced and sold, there are various farms in the Netherlands that let you get stuck in and make it yourself. Booij Kaasmakers, just outside Rotterdam, and Kaasboerderij Weenink, situated in rural Gelderland, are two such examples and it’s definitely worth visiting one of these if you can. Not only can you tour the farm and see mechanical and manual ways of producing the cheese, but you can also take part in workshop sessions that give you the skills needed to make it. Once made, the cheese is either wrapped and taken with you to ripen at home (Booij Kaasmakers) or left to ripen at the farm and then posted to you when it’s ready (Kaasboerderij Weenink).
If you’re planning an Amsterdam city break, there are also plenty of great farms to visit in the area. Alida Hoeve (Volendam), Catharina Hoeve (Zaandam) and Jacobs Hoeve (Katwoude) are all within a twenty-minute journey.
Amsterdam Tasting Room
However, if you simply want to taste some delicious cheese, you don’t even need to leave Amsterdam. Museums, markets and farms are all likely to give you a taste of their product, but the best place to give your taste buds a treat is at the Reypanaer Cheese Tasting Room on Oude Leliestraat.
Book yourself an hour’s tasting workshop and the cheesemaster will talk you through the characteristics of six kinds of cheese. Slice off chunks with your cheese guillotine and wash everything down with samples of three different wines. What more could you ask for?
If you would like to follow your stomach on a trip to the Netherlands, the Fred.\ Holidays team can tailor-make it for you. Call us on 0800 988 3369 or sign up to our mailing list for the latest deals and news.