Before entering the Netherlands I thought about culinary stops I could make and of course cheese came to my mind first… I’ve already spent a day in Amsterdam, ate Stroopwafels and visited the food hallen. Now it was about discovering Gouda.
I expected Gouda to be a small town with just a few tourists and a very traditional cheese market which takes place every Thursday. I easily found a parking space and made my way walking to the city center… to closer I got the more tourists were walking around. When I arrived the market everything was packed! Loads of people from different nations were visiting the famous cheese market and I was struggling to get my way through. Instead of a tiny and traditional cheese market I found a crowded market with every stall you can imagine… from souvenirs, over clothes to vegetables/fruits and cheese. It was a colorful mixture with a public show right in the middle. People dressed in traditional cloths and wearing those typical clogs were acting as cheese traders and talked about cheese and negotiated the price. They were imitating the typical atmosphere which took place many years ago. They even had horses with a coach behind to carry the cheese through town. A guy with a microphone explained a few things and loads of pictures were taken with the traditionally dressed people. My perfect picture of a intimate cheese market was destroyed! Everything was commercially driven and there were loads of shops selling every souvenir you can imagine printed with a cheese. It wasn’t about quality or a special atmosphere at all.
So I entered the house which hosts the public balance where cheese was weighed since 1668 (for tax reasons). It’s also place of a cheese museum. So I gave it a try which was the next disappointment. Within two levels were exhibited some tools and demonstrations to explain the history as well as the processing of cheese. One floor showed a video which seemed to be as old as the history of cheese is… However, the information within their video were quite interesting. Cheese has been made in the Netherlands since 800BC. The coastal regions as well as Friesland are the most suitable areas for dairy cattle as they are low-lying and of a moist-soil. Today the Netherlands is the leading export nation for cheese and produces around 100 million cheese loafs per year. Dutch farms do have about 50 cows in average which give roundabout 20 liters of milk per day. One cheese loafs contains about 100 liters of milk and weighs about 12 kilogram.
The milk will be filled into big tanks where it’s constantly stirred. Rennet and coagulant is added to the milk to create a thick consistency. Hot water is added to stimulate that process (curdling). The stirring machine cuts the milk into little pieces until it’s ready to be further processed. For that the liquids (called whey) are separated from the cheese which will be pressed into the typical form for Gouda afterwards. After that the cheese is washed in a brine bath to improve the taste. After curing the cheese has to mature. Traditionally this happens on wooden planks where it will be cleaned and washed once a week. The cheese has to mature for at least 4 weeks. Within that duration the coloration changes from light yellow to light brown. The longer the cheese matures the stronger is the taste. Young Gouda matures for 4 weeks, mature Gouda for 4 months and old Gouda for about 10 months. As there is no geographical protection of Gouda it can be made everywhere by just following the recipe. That’s why Gouda from Holland is marked by a specific seal to identify it’s origin. In supermarkets it’s called „Gouda Holland“ if you want to make sure that it’s typical dutch.
After visiting the museum I was strolling through the narrow streets. Gouda is a very beautiful and romantic town as soon as you leave the crowded market (on Thursdays). It has a lot of bridges over the small canals and many historical buildings surrounding them. As soon as the market is over (12.30pm) the town turns into a calm and charming place. I even found a good cheese monger which wasn’t that crowded and where I found excellent cheese from smaller farms.
So if you don’t fancy a show and loads of tourists I rather recommend to visit Gouda at anytime but not Thursday morning. There are good cheese mongers around which give you an even better impression and feeling about the origin and quality of Gouda.