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A morning at Gouda cheese market, Holland, with Lego and Smurf ice-cream

Gouda

South Holland’s a reliable place when it comes to family holidays.  You know you’re going to get satisfying food: pancakes, siroopwafels, poffertjes (which are essentially pancakes again, but small versions) and chips. The cycling’s well-designed for little legs, with flat cycle paths, well away from cars. And there are several pretty, canal-strewn towns – like Gouda, Delft and Rotterdam – all within easy reach of each other. On our recent trip to the Netherlands, we visited a few of these places; but, rather than blending in to the morass of quaint Dutch towns, Gouda was a surprise. Like the other towns, it’s full of tradition, but it also manages to have a hip European modern twist.

Gouda Cheese market

We were drawn to Gouda by its cheese market, which takes place every Thursday morning, from April through to August. Gouda cheese has been traded on the Goudse kaasmarkt for more than three centuries, with farmers travelling in to the town square, to trade and have their cheese weighed in front of the old town hall.

Gouda cheese market

Gouda cheese market

To the non-Dutch speaker, the market is somewhat baffling. Clog-wearing women in traditional dress stand in the centre, gazing into the crowds of tourists circling the neatly arranged stacks of lemony orange Gouda wheels. Are they guarding the cheese, or just posing for photo opps? Swarthy, gruff-looking farmers ride in on horse-drawn carriages, then two of them dismount and have what looks like a hand-slapping battle (called handjeklap, apparently – it’s all part of the bartering process). In the background, a man commentates through a microphone, with the galloping pace of an auctioneer. And then, just as the cheese ‘auctioneer’ reaches a crescendo, a farmer comes along and thrusts a 15-kilo wheel of Gouda into your young child’s hands…..

Gouda

The wheel of cheese turned out to be made of polystyrene. But we were worried for a brief moment.

Here’s a little video I made of our trip to Gouda, showing the cheese market in action.

On the morning of our visit, there was a competition to guess the weight of the Gouda, and win a wheel of the good stuff. If you weren’t lucky enough to walk away with a whole cheese, there was plenty of opportunity to sample Gouda of all varieties and ages. 60% of all Dutch cheese comes from Gouda; as well as the stalls flanking the town square on market day, there are several permanent cheese shops in the town, where you can try before you buy.

Gouda

Gouda

Gouda is a complex cheese, with seven ages of maturity, ranging from the young, nutty, slightly rubbery variety, similar in texture to Edam; to the ‘oude Gouda’, matured for 10-12 months or more, and with the heavy salted taste and crystalline texture of Parmesan. As well as different ages, you can find smoked varieties, and an vast range of added ingredients, like beetroot, peppercorns and fennel (my personal favourite). If we had more time to spend in Gouda, we would have paid a visit to the Goudse Waag, a building dating back to 1668 which now houses the cheese and artisanal crafts museum.

Gouda

Gouda

Lego and smurf ice cream

But Gouda isn’t all about the cheese. A walk around the historic cobbled streets reveals a few hip treasures, like Den Gouwen Aar, where you can sample craft ale in the beer-tasting room, or buy  Gouda herb beer. It’s not exactly modern – beer was brewed on the premises as long ago as 1561 – but what could be more hip than locally sourced craft beer?

Around the streets are quirky little touches, like this sign:

Gouda

We were also pleased to discover Play today, a Lego specialist shop with hundreds of kits lining its walls. There seemed to be a proper little community in action there; the staff were mega-friendly, and there was a room at the back of the shop where a group of regulars were working together on a complicated build. For those who wanted to make something a little less inolved than the Star Wars Millennium Falcon, you could pay a Euro to build your own figure, which our children happily set about doing.

Play today, Gouda

Play today, Gouda

And then, there was a the Smurf ice cream. Purchased at a so-so restaurant on the edge of the town square, it was a bright, neon blue and tasted of plastic. I’d never come across it before, and I haven’t since. My son loved it, though, as you can see in this video….

So, for the Smurf ice cream, your wonderful, baffling cheese market and your hipster surprises, Gouda: I thank you.

Have you visited Gouda?

If you’re interested to read more about south Holland, you may like these posts:

Six stops on a south Holland road trip

A week at Strandpark Vlugtenburg

Windmills at Kinderdijk, near Rotterdam in Holland

Music boxes and Old Masters at the Mauritshuis Museum, the Hague

A day at Duinrell Wassenaar theme park

A week at Duinrell theme park with Canvas Holidays

Things to do in Leiden

  • Gouda
    A morning at Gouda cheese market

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31 Comments

  • Mandy
    November 30, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    I’d love to visit that market! It looks awesome! … But the smurf ice cream tasted like plastic?!? And your son liked it? … What do you serve him at home? 😉

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 2, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      Heheehe he’s a boy of strange tastes!

      Reply
  • Plutonium Sox
    November 30, 2016 at 6:38 pm

    Wow what an amazing place, and all that cheese! I found myself thinking how beautiful the cheeses were in all the different colours. Then I gave myself a talking to for thinking cheese was aesthetically pleasing when really I just want to sink my teeth into it haha! It’s definitely on my list of places to visit next time I’m over there now.
    Nat.x

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 2, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      Cheese: beautiful and delicious. xx

      Reply
  • Phoebe | Lou Messugo
    December 1, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Gouda sounds like excellent fun, I love quirky cultural experiences like the market (and it’s so photogenic, who would have thought cheese could be so attractive!) That revolting blue smurf ice-cream is available in most gelaterias in and near Nice I’m afraid to say. (So you know where to book your next family holiday if your kid wants more….!)

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 2, 2016 at 2:07 pm

      Argh no! I thought this was the only place where it was to be found….better cover my son’s eyes if we go to Nice!

      Reply
  • Phoebe | Lou Messugo
    December 1, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Should have said #FarawayFiles !!!

    Reply
  • Different Shores
    December 1, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Beautiful pictures. This is a bit exciting for me – vintage Gouda is my very favourite cheese… I love Dutch food in general. #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 2, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      Gouda’s a pretty special cheese, isn’t it?

      Reply
  • Lolo
    December 1, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    I went to the Alkmaar Cheese Market back in 2007 and loved it! I would LOVE to visit the Gouda market, or ar least see the town when they have the light festival! #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 2, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      I love Alkmaar too. Sadly we never made it to the cheese market there. Good excuse to go back!

      Reply
  • Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    December 1, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    What a colourful place – looks so pretty. I also live in South Holland but the one in Lincolnshire!!
    I think I would be heading for the ice-cream as I’m not a fan of cheese but plastic smurf ice-cream might be pushing it. Lol!
    #farawayfiles

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 2, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      Hahah they did have lots of other flavours that were more appealing!

      Reply
  • Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles)
    December 1, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    Never mind visiting, Nell, I want to move here! Seriously, a cheese market, canals, colourful signs AND a Lego shop where you’re actually encouraged to build the Millennium Falcon! Wow. Also found out something new – didn’t think I liked Gouda cheese much as I find it so bland but love the sound of the strong version which is like Parmesan. Thanks for enlightening me on #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 2, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      Yes, the young Gouda was entirely different to the old version. Some argue they should be classified as different cheeses.

      Reply
  • Erin Gustafson @oregongirlaroundtheworld
    December 1, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    I haven’t been to Gouda – but we went to Haarlem to see the tulips at Keukenhoff this April. Some of Holland feels a little targeted at tourists, but seeing this historic cheese exchange would be very amusing! And seriously – cheese and craft beer. Yes please! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles – Cheers from Copenhagen, Erin

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 2, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      This was very touristy – but it was so much fun that I really didn’t care!

      Reply
  • Chiera
    December 1, 2016 at 7:01 pm

    Seems like the perfect day out! I am such a sucker for the dutch architecture! Beautiful pictures #fawarayfiles

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 2, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      Thank yoU!

      Reply
  • Katy Clarke
    December 2, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    I so wanted to see this when we were in the Netherlands earlier this year Nell. Unfortunately we were a little early but I loved seeing your experience. Looks like so much fun. I loved the truffle version of Gouda we tasted in Amsterdam.. of course! Thanks for sharing the cheesy goodness on #FarawayFiles

    Reply
    • Nell
      December 8, 2016 at 7:46 pm

      ooh now that sounds good! The Netherlands is such a cool place….x

      Reply
  • Jen from Jenography.net
    March 31, 2017 at 9:13 am

    I practically swooned at the sight of all that cheese. I don’t think it would have occurred to me to visit Gouda but I’d love to experience the market! x

    Reply
    • Nell
      April 5, 2017 at 9:34 pm

      Jen we hadn’t quite anticipated the scale of it. So much of this part of Holland is understated – but glorious.

      Reply
  • Tania
    April 4, 2017 at 7:02 pm

    What a wonderful place, especially if you’re a cheese lover like I am! Looking forward to checking it out myself soon hopefully!

    Reply
    • Nell
      April 5, 2017 at 9:49 pm

      If you like cheese, you’ll LOVE Gouda!

      Reply
  • Debora
    April 19, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    We are so proud to be part of the beautiful city of Gouda. Our colorful African giftshop is in Gouda since last year July. We love the historical buildings in Gouda but also the exclusive and special little shops which makes Gouda the perfect city for visiting

    Reply
    • Nell
      April 20, 2017 at 9:03 pm

      We loved it there. Such a charismatic place!

      Reply
  • NinaTremaglio
    June 23, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    Loved your Gouda post. Do you happen to know if there is anywhere to store luggage in Gouda while visiting? It doesn’t look like the train station has storage.
    Thanks
    Nina

    Reply
  • Jo Mulholland
    July 10, 2017 at 7:48 am

    I was born in Gouda, in 1943 ( just in time for the “Hunger Winter”). I migrated to Sydney, Australia, in 1956, with my parents, of course (I was 12). When my son and daughter visited my “city of birth”, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves there. Felt “at home”! Knew just where to find the nice things to eat, etc.. Credit to their Sydney-born, Anglo-Irish-background mother, communication and understanding was no problem. I am SO GLAD that they BOTH have such a favorable impression of my ‘City-of-Birth’. Unfortunately, born with ‘water-on-the-brain’, I’m even more, still, a “Cheesehead” (‘Kaaskop’).

    Reply
    • Nell
      July 10, 2017 at 2:39 pm

      Let’s hope you never lose it! Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply

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