All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. All tulips are flowers, but not all flowers are tulips. And Holland is in the Netherlands, but not all of the Netherlands is in Holland. So why does it seem as if 99% of the world [wrongly] refers to the entire 12 provinces of this country by the name of only 2 of these provinces?
The answer stems back to the 1600s, or this Dutch Golden Age, when the country became a wealthy capital of trade, science, military, and artistic power. It was the very two provinces of Holland that boasted the most economic and maritime prowess, so the entire country took on the name of its region as a sort of international branding tactic.
This past Saturday was “Discover Holland Day”, so I, with some fellow Gators and other UU Summer School students, set out on an expedition through the Dutch countryside to see all the stereotypical splendor of Holland ourselves.
Our first stop was Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for a collection of 19 windmills. What’s a trip to Holland without seeing some windmills, clogs, and tulips? Unfortunately, no tulips were in bloom, but we had the first two bases covered. Most of Holland is situated 7 meters below sea level, so ever since the 16th century, windmills, dykes, and pumping stations have been built for flood control. Now, they are simply national icons. After walking around on the damp, marshy ground for an hour, I now understand the utility of wooden clogs: protection. Some farmers in rural Holland still wear them.
Zouterwoude/Kaasboerderij Van Veen
After hopping back in the bus for an hour, we arrived in the village of Zouterwoude, where we visited the Dairy farm of Karin and Sjaak Van Veen. Sjaak is a third-generation farmer on this land, though the entire operation has been around for centuries. Along with his wife, Sjaak led us on a full-fledged tour of the cheese-making process.
Step 1: Nothing like the smell of cow before tasting some fresh cheese. But hey, at least it’s fresh. I still am in shock at how massive these cattle were, even the baby calves. But don’t let their mellow demeanor fool you; these cows require a lot of TLC. Sjaak had just assisted a laboring cow earlier that morning, and we had the privilege of seeing a baby calf ours after it was born.
Step 2: Okay, I will admit, I am not the biggest cheese lover. I know, blasphemy in the Netherlands, but that did not stop me from sampling some fresh from the source. If I’m going to enjoy cheese, I’d may as well enjoy the cream of the crop,
(<–) punny no? We sampled several kinds, from a plain variety to one with fenugreek. My favorite was the cheese with stinging nettle, garlic, and onion. “Stinging nettle” sounds questionable, but anything with garlic and onion never disappoints. Karin Van Veen led us through all steps of production, from preparing the culture, to separating curds and whey, to shaping, to aging. Cheese here is classified based on maturity – i.e. an “immature” cheese is young, about 12 weeks, and mild in flavor. Their most mature cheese is a 6-year-old variety – with the sharpness of a knife, I bet. Though it’s somewhat unsettling to think about where all the flavor comes from, Karin assured us that the government health department inspects a culture of their cheese on a weekly basis to check for normal pH balance, bacteria, and contaminant levels. We then got to walk through a giant maze/vault of cheese wheels in every size and age imaginable.
Last stop was the town of Gouda, pronounced How-da with a throaty “H”. Yes, us foreigners should be ashamed at unabashedly pronouncing it as we do, though I admittedly will revert back to those American ways when I return to the States. But, Gouda was “How-da” for the day, and what a quaint little town it was! It reminded me a lot like Utrecht, except instead of flags adorning the cables which hung over the streets, there were giant cheese wheels hanging over my head. We strolled around the outdoor market for a bit, and then went on the hunt for ice cream (which is always an easy hunt), before following it up with some free stroopwafels. Oh, stroopwaffels, how you have my heart! A street vendor will come out with a fresh batch and the tray will be wiped within seconds. They’re that good. Think warm, buttery waffle cones sandwiching sticky, sweet caramel. A great follow-up to ice cream, and sweet way to end the day.
Until next time,
*P.S.: Despite eating cheese and being in Gouda, I did not eat any Gouda cheese today!