Three Things I Learned While on a Cheese Journey to Holland.

After traveling back in time Friday, I’m still acclimating to my own time zone and processing what the last two weeks have been for me. The husband and I took a trip of a lifetime to Holland with Cheese Journeys. It was nine heavenly days of food and drink throughout Amsterdam and beyond. Every day was a learning opportunity and I have so much to say, but right now I just want to touch on a few observations and tidbits of knowledge that have left a huge impression on me from the trip.

It’s much less stressful traveling with a significant other if you don’t have to plan anything or worry about how you are going to get around.

Normally, I’m a bit of a control freak and like to plan things. That’s not to say I like to plan every moment because I also like time to explore or just to chill on a vacation, but I do enjoy researching where to go and what to do. My husband rarely has any places or things in particular he wants to do so we work perfectly in that respect. I plan, he follows. Sometimes though, I like to not have control and to just be able to turn my brain off and I just know that will be really hard for me with him at the helm.

I am not really the type normally to go on guided tour trips because it usually revolves around the most touristy of things and I question if the other people on that tour group would be those that I could really connect with. Knowing Anna well enough though and trusting her connections in the cheese world put me at ease that the people going on this trip would be people that I could at least tolerate at a base level. I wasn’t expecting to feel such a bond with the group like we did though. That was a beautifully pleasant surprise.

We did do some touristy stuff and that was great, but we also saw a true snapshot of what living in Holland looks like now and in the past. We visited places that most tourists would never take the time to explore or to even really know about.

All of these things made for an easy trip with my husband that didn’t result in any vacation arguments or hurt feelings. We were happily learning and exploring with each other and with the rest of the group.

Still happy on the last day!

Still happy on the last day!

Windmills were literally used to pump water out of the lands and dry up lakes.

I’m not really sure that I’ve ever really sat down and thought about why Holland is so well known for their abundance of windmills. Going in to this trip, I think I thought that they were used to harness energy and while that’s the case for some of them now, they were actually used to pump the water in to man made canals to create more land space. Literal lakes were moved to make use of the land below, like in the area of Beemster. The Dutch will tell you they’ve been waging a “war on water” since the 1600’s. This reclamation of land is known as a polder and its grasses and foliage are rich in vitamins and minerals perfect for grazing animals. Good grazing lands = good cheese!

Weapons of water destruction!

Weapons of water destruction!

Most artisanal cheesemakers don’t like their cheeses being referred to as Gouda because of the negative connotations that word now has.

Wander around Amsterdam for five minutes and you’ll run across a bevy of cheese shops that have a variety of goudas in different ages and oddly, different colors. If that is all you see, that would lead to an impression of the kind of cheeses being made in Holland. Looking through a deeper lens though, there are many cheeses being made in Holland that might look and taste like what you think a gouda is but are being made and handled in a way that the cheeses you see lining these shops in Amsterdam are far from. Grass fed, farmstead, organic, hand made, small batch, raw milk; these tenets are not the backbone of cheeses being sold to the tourist masses. Most of these chesemakers will not be calling their cheese gouda. They will have specific names like Wilde Weide, Remeker, De Nylander, or even under the umbrella term Boerenkaas (which means farmhouse and is usually a raw milk cheese).

While there are a couple of protected designations of origin, the Dutch may have been a little late to the game in applying for those designations so the market is flooded with goudas of varying quality and turning back now would be difficult. There would also be some big players in the game that would likely push back since the monetary value of selling gouda to tourists is immense. By using a specific name like the name of the farm, makers can differentiate themselves and it ensures the quality of cheese. Honestly, I understand that line of thinking because lumping them in with the same cheeses as a bright blue, lavender pesto gouda is a disservice to the makers working so hard to be stewards of the land and to their traditional cheese.

Give me a fenugreek gouda any day but I’ll steer clear of the unnatural colors.

Give me a fenugreek gouda any day but I’ll steer clear of the unnatural colors.

This is by no means an extensive list of all the things I’ve learned on this trip. I have so much more knocking around in my brain and a few more posts that will require a bit more time and energy. These were just some surprising and noteworthy take aways that I felt were a good start to the story.

I hope you’ll join me for future stories of the Netherlands but until then, tell me, what is your first thoughts when someone says Gouda? A word, a phrase, tasting notes. I wanna hear your thoughts!