Saturday, January 8, 2011

Say Cheese!

One of my absolute favorite towns in Europe is Gouda.  You know, like the cheese.  This little town in Holland is just the perfect size, not quite as small as a village, but by no means a city.  Just look at this gorgeous market square:

City hall in foreground; weigh house in the background.

During our summer visit, my kids were highly amused by the “cheesiness” of the town: 

Hanging banners of golden cheese wheels:

Cheese floating in the canals:

Innumerable cheese shops offering samples:

And, of course, the cheese market:


Jokes and puns abounded during our stay in Gouda:  "say cheese!" "yum, that’s goooouda," "that's so cheeseball," "I'm feta up with this!" and other such adolescent witticisms, i.e. giggling kids.

The Gouda cheese market was one of the highlights of our month long trip to Europe last summer.  The cheese market, which takes place every Thursday morning, is a little bit different from the more famous Dutch cheese market in Alkmaar.  It’s more intimate, less touristy, and a wonderful, colorful, interesting, cultural experience.  The cheese wheels are delivered to the market square by horse
and wagon, unloaded by the young cheese boys (cheese makers in-training) and displayed for the public as well as for the official cheese traders.  Samples of the cheese are cored, inspected for stringent quality control, and given to tourists to taste.  (Delicious!)  The traders and cheese makers then bargain, as they have been doing for 300
Coring the cheese for a sample
years, with an entertaining, centuries-old tradition of hand slaps and hand shakes.  Once a price is agreed, the cheese boys carry the cheese to the weighing house, the Waag, which is another beautiful building in the square, and is a national monument.  In between cheese wheel weighings, the old scale-master (scale-keeper? weigh-master?) will weigh children for 2€ and give them a certificate of weight.  It’s fun for the kids because most have never seen a counterbalance scale or been balanced by brass bell weights.

Getting weighed on the cheese scales.

The town square comes alive on cheese market day with vendors selling everything from handmade crafts to fresh fish and produce.  There are wooden shoe carving demonstrations, buttermilk making for the kids, and an old calliope wagon.  Snacks are to die for:  a local man makes warm stroopwafels (Gouda is famous for these caramel-syrup-filled-waffle-cookies) right on the spot and another Dutchman pours batter onto his grill and frys poffertjes at his booth (mini, puffy pancakes drizzled with powdered sugar.)  We ate lots of both, and then even managed lunch from another vendor who was serving delectable fish and chips.

Poffertjes being made in the market square
There’s so much to admire in Gouda’s market square.  The imposing 15th century Gothic city hall is stunning and has a carillon performance every half-hour in which little mechanized figures reenact the granting of the city charter in 1272.  Visitors may tour the inside of the building, particularly worthwhile on Thursday mornings, to get a sweeping view of the cheese market from the 3rd story balcony.  St. Janskerk, an enormous church in the square, is famous for its collection of seventy 16th century stained glass windows.  Each one of them was painstakingly removed during WWII and hidden in various cellars throughout Gouda, where they all survived and were replaced after the war.

The rest of the town is lovely, with at least two windmills, a lush, quiet city park, meandering canals criss-crossed with flowering footbridges, and sidewalk cafés.  Gouda is near the top of my family's list of favorite European destinations.

1 comment:

  1. After living in the Netherlands for 12 years I have recently become enamored with stroopwafels. Fresh, hot ones are "OMG" good.

    ReplyDelete

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