The picturesque town of Gouda, located in the South Holland province, is known as one the cheese capitals of The Netherlands. The world famous Gouda cheese has been produced for centuries by the farmers of nearby villages, an area that’s nicknamed the Cheese Valley. Once a week, they met up in Gouda to sell their cheese to traders. The first Gouda cheese market dates back to the 14th century. To this day, you can witness that exact tradition at the same medieval market place. In this article, we’ll explain in detail what to expect when visiting the Gouda cheese market and what other tourist attraction to explore in this gorgeous historic town.
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that this is a seasonal event. The next edition of the Gouda cheese market takes place on Thursday mornings from 2 April to 27 August 2020 and from 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. There’ll be no cheese market in Gouda on 21 May 2020.
Gouda cheese market
Let me start off by sharing a personal story: I grew on (Dutch) cheese thanks to my grandmother who owned a cheese shop. My sister and I went there daily after school and I remember my grandmother cutting the cheese from those giant cheese wheels and letting me sample different types. Cheese was, and still is, the non-negotiable appetizer or ingredient during family gatherings. And as soon as our kids could chew, they too sampled cheese. I guess it’s our way of honouring my grandmother. So, visiting the Gouda cheese market had always been on my bucket list. But I have to admit that I had no knowledge of its rich history and traditions.
– Traditional cheese trade
In the shadow of Gouda’s gothic-styled town hall, you can see the farmers arrive by carriage and unload their cheese wheels that weigh anywhere between 10 and 12 kg (22 to 26 lbs) each.
The Gouda cheese market starts with the ringing of the bell, which hangs by the town hall. The samplers drill a hole in the cheese to determine its elasticity before it is crumbled and tasted. Then the farmers and traders, dressed in traditional clothes, negotiate on the price by clapping hands, a custom called handjeklap in Dutch.
Opposite from the town hall and the Gouda cheese market, you’ll find the 17th century weighing house called De Goudse Waag. You can still see the large steelyard that used to determine the weight of the Gouda cheese wheels. This is also the place where the payment of product and taxes was made. De Goudse Waag now houses the Gouda tourist information center, the Cheese and Crafts Museum and a cheese shop.
– Tourist attraction
Over the past decades, the Gouda cheese market has become a tourist attraction and the real cheese trade takes place on the cheese farms and in factories. Still, it’s quite the spectacle. You can see how proud the men are to perform this centuries-old tradition for hundreds of enthusiastic spectators from around the world. The man in the bright yellow suit is the presenter, who explains how the cheese trade works and announces the competition. The atmosphere is inviting and friendly and the interaction with visitors informal and animated.
In front of De Goudse Waag, there’s a barrow with an assortment of cheese wheels in different sizes. Visitors can guess the total weight and write their answer on a note. When the Gouda cheese market comes to an end, the assortment of cheese in the barrow is weighed on the traditional scale. The assistants, in their beautiful traditional attire, check the responses and name the winners.
– Buying Gouda cheese
Next to the traditional cheese market, on the same town square, you’ll find a food market where you can buy dozens of variations of Gouda cheese. You can sample them there too. We couldn’t decide so we got the truffle cheese, the pesto cheese, the walnut cheese and the one with cumin seeds. There’s more choice here than there is in the shop at De Gouden Waag. We did find this other cute Gouda cheese shop in one of the shopping street with plenty of Gouda variations.
– Gouda cheese facts and figures
- Gouda is often mispronounced: ghouw-duh is the correct pronunciation, with the first letter sounding like a soft ‘g‘ or a harsh ‘h‘.
- The famous Gouda cheese is known and liked for its mild, creamy texture and its lingering taste. It’s more obvious in the aged and heartier Gouda cheese, which is known for its complex kokumi sensation a.k.a. the sixth taste.
- The longer the Gouda cheese ripens, the intenser the flavour. The young cheese has ripened for 4 weeks while the old cheese matured for 1 to 2 years. My personal preference is the extra matured Gouda, which ripened for about 8 months.
- An important aspect of high-quality Gouda cheese are the round holes that are evenly spread in the cheese. These are caused by the lactic bacterias that spread gas and create bubbles in the cheese.
- In 2010, the designation ‘Gouda Holland’ is protected and can only be made in The Netherlands from Dutch cow milk. That being said, this designation is not limited to the South-Holland province, to which the city of Gouda belongs. Therefore, similar cheeses made in other Dutch provinces can named Gouda Holland too.
- The Dutch produce 650 million kilos (1 430 lbs) of cheese every year of which two thirds is exported. On average, they consume about 14 kg (just over 30 lbs) of cheese per year themselves.
- Archaeologists found remains of cheese-making equipment dating back to 200 B.C.
- Gouda cheese is nicknamed yellow gold.
- About 300 000 international visitors visit Gouda on a yearly basis.
– Other cheesy Gouda attractions
Of course the city of Gouda has been building on the cheese theme. Here are some other cheese-related attractions in town:
- Visit the Cheese and Crafts Museum in De Goudse Waag.
- For a more interactive approach, head to the Gouda Cheese Experience.
- Why indulge in another high tea when you can enjoy a high cheese in the Museumcafé goudA?
Gouda beyond the cheese
There’s more to Gouda than food for the soul. The town is incredibly charming and compact enough to explore by foot. Start your walking itinerary from the gorgeous 15th century city hall.
The Gouda streets or Goudse straatjes that start from the market place are truly enchanting. As you walk the medieval cobblestones, explore the hidden alleyways and cross the romantic bridges, you get a sense of the town’s historic soul. The pretty canal views complete the picture.
Feel free to wander off: The pointed tower of the St Jan’s church or St Janskerk is a consistent point of reference. Its 72 stained glass windows date back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. On a sunny day the gothic church offers a spectacular array of colors.
Behind the church, you’ll find one of Gouda’s most beloved almshouses or hofjes: the Willem Vroesenhuis. It was as a retirement home avant la lettre for poor man. After a complete renovation, it’s now a residential community. Feel free to enter the inner courtyard within visiting hours.
The Gouda Museum enjoys a beautiful location along one of the canals. It houses an impressive collection of Gouda pottery as well as several 16th century religious artworks and other historic objects.
On the fringes of Gouda’s historic city center, you’ll find the Red Lion windmill or De Roode Leeuw, one of the oldest working windmills in the Netherlands. This area of town is less polished and home to this incredible street art wall.
When you’ve completed your exploration of Gouda, you’ve earned yourself a treat. Head to the Kamphuisen shop at the Gouda Markt to enjoy a delicious stroopwafel. This syrup waffle is another local delicacy that found its roots in Gouda. It’s now one of the most typical Dutch food items around.
Should you visit Gouda in winter, then you could choose your timing so that it coincides with the Christmas markets and the Gouda by Candlelight event. One night a year, just before Christmas, everyone gathers around the Christmas tree at the Gouda market place at 7 p.m. to watch the thousands of candles that enchantedly light the city. Click here to check the date for the next candlelight event.
Gouda makes for a wonderful day trip from Amsterdam. All it takes is a half an hour train ride from Amsterdam Central Station to the Gouda railway station. From there, you can easily reach the heart of town and the Gouda cheese market on foot. Then explore the rest of the city on your own of join the guided 2-hour Monument Walking Tour.
We spent about 4 to 5 hours in Gouda, taking our time to visit the famous cheese market and the church, stroll the medieval streets and soak up the friendly atmosphere.
You could opt to spend the night in Gouda but we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it unless you’d use it as a quiet travel base to explore the nearby cities of The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. Even the famous Keukenhof Gardens and the most magnificent tulip gardens of the Netherlands are close by. In that case, it’s important to note that you won’t find any hotels in Gouda… yet! The new WSHS boutique hotel, housed in the former orphanage or weeshuis (explaining the hotel’s name), sure looks promising. Opening is foreseen for 2020.
Other cheese markets in The Netherlands
Gouda is not the only city in The Netherlands where you can visit a cheese market. Other cities that offer a similar experience: Alkmaar, Edam, Hoorn and Woerden all host a traditional Dutch cheese market. The Alkmaar cheese market is just as popular as the one in Gouda and located in the North Holland province, north of Amsterdam.
Have you visited one of these Dutch cheese markets? If so, which one? Did you like it? Let us know in the comments.
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