Gouda: Holland’s best-loved cheese
The Netherlands produces a variety of tempting cheeses, but the most typical and best known are the hard or semi-hard cheeses. You might be familiar with Gouda – rightfully Holland’s most popular cheese. Yet its only when tasting Gouda in its country of origin that it's revealed how complex it can actually be. Gouda (as well as many other Dutch cheeses) is categorised by how long it has been aged: jong (1 month), belegen (4 months), oud (10 months), and overjarig (1 year or more). It starts out its life as mild and creamy, but develops a drier texture and more intense flavour the longer it’s aged.
Lesser-known Dutch cheeses
Beyond a broad spectrum of Goudas, the Netherlands produces a number of other cheeses. Geitenkaas (goat cheese) is a bright white semi-hard cheese made for grating, slicing and sandwiches. Filled with holes, Maasdammer has a sweet nutty taste that resembles Emmentaller (swiss cheese). Deliciously creamy Boerenkaas (farmers cheese) is made with fresh unpasteurised milk. Compared to other blue cheeses, Bleu de Graven or Delft’s Blauw has a rich, fairly mild flavour. You'll also find cheeses studded with herbs and spices like cloves, mustard seeds, nettles and most commonly cumin.
For an introduction to the most popular Dutch cheeses, stop by the Cheese Museum or one of the Henri Willig Cheese and More shops. Next, visit the Reypenaer Tasting Room for a professionally-guided tasting of their award-winning cheese. In the Negen Straatjes (9 Streets) the Kaaskamer’s shelves are stuffed with cheese from the Netherlands and abroad. If can't commit to a big block, order a baguettes with the cheese of your choice. With four branches in Amsterdam, Tromp (website in Dutch) is an excellent cheese shop with knowledgeable staff ready to answer questions or offer a taste before you buy. Abraham Kef (website in Dutch) offers a selection of raw-milk Dutch cheeses, but is best known for its expertise in French cheeses. Finally, most of the city’s open-air markets have at least one stall selling local and international cheeses.
Bar snacks & dining out
Cheese pairs perfectly with a drink, and nearly every bar in the city has at least one cheese-based snack on their menu. Purists order kaasblokjes – bite-sized cubes of cheese served with mustard for dipping. Kaassoufflés and kaasstengels are two types of deep fried snacks which feature melted cheese surrounded by a crispy coating. The filling might be processed cheese, but they are still addictive with a glass of beer. For a slightly fancier fried treat, try geitenkaaskroketten (a croquette filled with goat cheese).
If you’d rather enjoy cheese with your dinner, consider ordering a kaasplank (cheese board). The city’s Dutch restaurants are a good place to start, but be sure to look under the dessert menu! The cheese course is generally served after the main meal. While not typically Dutch, fondue pops up on menus all over town in autumn and winter. Café Bern (website in Dutch) on the Nieuwmarkt and Fondue & Fondue (website in Dutch) on the Overtoom specialise in this delightful shared dish of melted cheese.
Cheese markets outside Amsterdam
If you’re looking for some cheese-related adventures outside Amsterdam, the Netherlands still has five traditional cheese markets in Alkmaar, Edam, Hoorn, Gouda and Woerden. The markets in Gouda and Woerden are still functioning trading centres where local cheese makers gather to sell their wares to wholesalers. The others put on impressive demonstrations while decked out in old-fashioned garb, surrounded by stalls selling cheese and souvenirs. If you’d like to visit a cheese market, keep in mind that they are only open from late spring through early autumn.