Smile and Say Cheese

To be happy in Holland, just smile and say cheese. On this trip, we have happily tasted a lot of Dutch cheese, attended the country’s greatest cheese market, found the happiest cows, visited the famous cheese town of Edam, and taken up residence just outside the other famous cheese town of Gouda.

Cheese Class Joe

Serious Student of Dutch Cheese

Upon our arrival, we enrolled in a two-hour wine and cheese class. Our instructor schooled us in the nuances of taste, texture, and mouth feel, and helped us discriminate between young, old, goat, sheep and cow cheeses. The only problem was that we drank so much wine that we forgot everything we learned.

Carry and weigh cheese

Cheese Porters and Weigh House at Alkmaar Cheese Market

In Alkmaar, we witnessed the oldest and largest ceremonial cheese market in the Netherlands. Every Friday morning between April and the end of September, tourists descend for this ostentatious reenactment of “cheesy” Dutch salesmanship.

Judging the cheese

Inspecting the Cheese at the Alkmaar Cheese Market

Traditional cheese vendors in silly hats greet customers in the city’s central square. Here, after inspectors in white lab coats examine the cheese, it is auctioned off with a ritualistic clapping of hands. Only after the cheese is lugged to the certified scales for weighing is the transaction finalized.

Cheese back to truck

Backstage at the Alkmaar Cheese Market

To investigate the source of all this coagulated milk fat, we stealthily snuck backstage. Around the corner, we uncovered two young rascals secretly loading the cheese wheels back into a large semi-trailer truck. Like bumbling detectives, we noted the big block letters on the side of the truck that cryptically spelled out “CONO”.

Beemster CONO cow

CONO Cheese Factory

After a few more inquiries and a wandering bike ride through the wholesome green pastures east of Alkmaar, we discovered CONO Kaasmakers. In this factory co-op of 475 happy farmers, they use natural processes and milk from happy cows to make Beemster cheese. Those CONO cows are so happy that they are also the exclusive milk provider for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Europe.

Edam walk off

Shop Lifting in Edam

On a more direct route from Alkmaar, we also visited the famous cheese town of Edam. Edam cheese is sold in spheres or rounded cylinders with coats of paraffin wax. If you have ever nibbled on a red Mini Babybel, you have eaten young Edam cheese.

Edam Bocce

That’s not a Bocce Ball, Knucklehead!

Edam matures slowly and travels well without spoiling. During the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company stocked their sailing vessels with Edam cheese to nourish the mariners and deckhands. Because it remained delicious even after long sea voyages, it remained the world’s most popular cheese for nearly 400 years.

Gouda vontage

Old Gouda Cheese on Weighing Scale

Nowadays, the popularity of Edam has been eclipsed by that other more famous Dutch cheese, Gouda. Gouda contains more fat than Edam, giving it a creamier texture that flows more smoothly when melted. Alas, it appears that the decline in Edam’s appeal was due to the gastronomic rise of macaroni and cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tromp shop

Cheese Glorious Cheese

Now that we are staying just outside of Gouda, we are happily inundated with great cheeses. Here, speaking Dutch is not necessary when buying that next piece of Beemster, Edam, or Gouda. I just smile and say cheese.

Es in cheese shop

Kid in a Candy Store

 

Blogger’s Notes: The word for cheese in Dutch is kaas, and the town of Gouda is pronounced “How-dah”. We amateur detectives could never figure out the abbreviation CONO, but their Extra Aged (X-O) Cheese was worth searching for!

 

20 thoughts on “Smile and Say Cheese

    • Don’t worry, Deb. There are no deserted islands in Holland. Nevertheless, Esther says that the word for peanut butter in Dutch is pindakaas, which translates as “peanut cheese”. Go figure? If I was deserted, I would probably also bring some dark chocolate, and maybe a Keurig coffee maker.

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  1. Cheese pleeeeez! Heaven on earth, what’s better than a nice cuppa of vino paired with some cheese…maybe a little chocolate? Loving your travels while trying not to drool too much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You paint a mouthwatering picture, Theresa & Bob! Like good wine and dark chocolate, a piece of aged cheese ignites the tastebuds. Because it actually melts in your mouth, cheese drool is a real problem here. Maybe that is why they invented cheese cloth?

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    • You and Gorgeous would enjoy this class, Marty. It was a different spin on wine tasting. Instead of a bit of cheese while sampling wines, it was a lavish assortment of cheeses with the wine as the accessory. I am sorry for the confusion, old pal. As a native Californian myself, I also took pride in those TV commercials declaring California cows as the happiest. After our sleuthing through the luxuriant pasturelands full of satiated cows, I can now admit that those advertising agents tricked us. Dutch cows are the happiest!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe, you and Heather are a great pair of detectives and have certainly uncovered some interesting Dutch cheese secrets on your wanderings. What a great idea to spend a couple of hours learning and tasting great cheese and wine. I have no doubt you came top of the class on the course…I am so envious.

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    • Esther was really the star student, Gilda. Being born and raised in Holland, she carries the cheese-lovers gene, and can discern the age and source while wearing a blindfold. When it comes to cheese, I am actually a real dunce. My idea of good cheese is the powdered stuff inside a box of mac and cheese. I must admit that I have learned a lot from the cheese class and our other cheese encounters here in Holland. It is an important part of Dutch culture and a tasty subject for further study.

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    • Peace, love, and ice cream, Neil. At the CONO factory, we learned that the dairy farmers are paid by the fat and protein content of their milk. As a result, they have a strong financial incentive to pamper their cows and supply only the richest and creamiest product. Inside the CONO cheese factory store, they also sold all of your favorite flavors of B&J’s ice cream. How about a tub of Phish Food, Cherry Garcia, or Chubby Hubby with your extra aged Beemster? See you later!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m happy you appreciated the “cheesy” humor, Phil & Michaela. You must admit that cheese is pretty funny. Have you heard any Gouda jokes lately?

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    • Oh my god, that is a clever idea, Janis. Being sort of a sports junkie, I couldn’t resist playing with the Edam cheese. I first wanted to try slow-pitch softball, but that would have gotten a little messy. Boccheese ball with a piece of cheese and glass of wine between each round. Now that sounds fun!

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    • They have it, Christi! Smoked cheese is very popular here too. Most of the cheese shops put out generous sample trays of their different smoked and flavored cheeses. I really like the truffle, pesto, and jalapeño flavors, but my favorite is still the unflavored extra aged cow’s milk cheese. Oh man, now I am making myself hungry!

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  3. A mouth-watering post! Awesome that they can bring the cheese out in the square and show it off and not worry about any spoiling. I thought Wisconsin had lots of cheese but the cheese store in your photo puts us to shame. Yum.

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    • Thanks, Jess! I thought the same thing when I first saw all the cheese wheels laid out on the ground. It must be pretty durable stuff. I would also have thought that it might attract a caravan of mice. You should be very proud of your delicious Wisconsin cheese. As you know, the Badger State is the USA’s leading producer of cheese. They don’t call it America’s Dairyland for nothing.

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