Cheese Valley: Gouda and beyond
Cheese has been a huge part of the Dutch economy and culture since the Middle Ages, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the average Dutch person eats a whopping 33 pounds (15 kilos) of cheese per year. It’s fitting then that Holland is home to an area known as Cheese Valley, made up of four regions: Gouda, Bodegraven-Reeuwijk, Woerden and Krimpenerwaard. Each of these has played – and still plays – an important role in the Dutch food industry. And naturally, Cheese Valley is the best place to find several interesting attractions, including an array of great cheese markets, stores and museums.
- Sample delicious local cheese and produce at Cheese Valley’s authentic markets.
- Learn about centuries-old Dutch cheese-making methods and traditions at Cheese Valley’s museums.
- Escape metropolitan life for the beautiful rural charm of Krimpenerwaard.
Get to know Cheese Valley
Whether you can pronounce it like a native or not, Gouda cheese is famous around the globe. It’s actually one of Holland’s biggest and most important export products. However, what many won’t realize is that Gouda cheese isn’t typically produced in the city of Gouda itself, rather in the villages and farms of the surrounding area: Cheese Valley. The name Gouda cheese stems from the Middle Ages, when the city of Gouda acquired the sole marketing rights to sell cheese in the County of Holland (as it was then known), causing all the farmers to flock to Gouda’s market square to sell their wares. Today, there are still around 300 Dutch farmers producing ‘boerenkaas’ (farmers’ cheese) in the region.
Cheese Valley is located between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. This handy location means it’s a breeze to pay a visit when you’re travelling between the major cities in the west of Holland. So visit one of the area’s cheese museums, see how the cheese is produced and ripened, and, of course, take a trip to the history-steeped cheese markets that take place at various times of the year in Gouda and Woerden to experience a dairy theatre spectacle and discover how it all began.
The four regions of Cheese Valley
Cheese Valley can be viewed as four distinct areas:
This city in the province of Zuid-Holland is known across the globe for its cheese. Its cheese markets of the Middle Ages were seminal, growing the city into the household name it is today. Remarkably, the cheeses ‘boerenkaas’, ‘Noord-Hollandse Gouda’ and ‘Gouda Holland’ are registered in the European Union as having Protected Geographical Indication status, meaning that they can only be produced in Holland using milk from Dutch cows. The city’s legendary Gouda cheese market still takes place on most Thursdays from April through August, giving visitors the chance to see how cheese was traded in times gone by.
This known center of cheese trading has a number of important cheese warehouses. Its cheese museum (Kaasmuseum Bodegraven) is definitely worth a visit, exhibiting cheese-making tools from the 19th century onwards, along with authentic farming-related photos and documents from the Green Heart region. There’s even a beautiful monument to cheese displayed in front of the town’s church.
Woerden is a Dutch city that has strong ties with cheese trading and production. Today, its popular cheese market takes place on Saturdays in the city’s square from mid-April until mid-August. Or visit one of the cheese-themed events in Woerden, such as Grass Cheese Day and the Historic Cheese Market
This tranquil area is located just south of Gouda. The milk from Krimpenerwaard’s cows is a key ingredient in the area’s quintessential farmers’ cheeses. And arguably, this place is one of Holland’s best-kept secrets, packed with charm, individuality and culture. The best time to visit the area is arguably in springtime, when the dairy cows are let out to pasture. This sight, coupled with the smell of fresh grass and sprawling rural vistas, make this area quite the experience. But a visit here is well worth the effort any time of year, especially when you can head home with a package of authentic farmers’ cheese from one of the local producers – an ideal gift, if you can resist the temptation to start cutting off slices.
Things to see and do in Cheese Valley
Cheese Valley’s various cheese markets are some of the area’s must-see attractions. Gouda Cheese Market is a picturesque peek into the rich history and culture of the area, giving visitors the chance to sample the region’s most sought-after produce. The market runs on most Thursdays from April through August. Other notable markets include the farmers’ market on Woerden’s Kerkplein (Church Square) and Bodegraven’s Autumn Market. Gouda’s Weigh House is a historic building from 1668, housing a cheese and gift shop that’ll tantalize your taste buds, while its most popular attractions include cheese tasting and a tour of the cheese museum. In Woerden, the Kaaspakhuis (Cheese Warehouse), an interactive experience center that will let you explore every aspect of cheese making, is an absolute must see.
Do as the Dutch do and explore the Gouda region by bike. That way you can take in the area’s beautiful scenery before stopping to witness the hustle and bustle of one of the finest Dutch cheese markets in Gouda. Conclude your day with a cheese tasting platter and a lovely glass of wine at the Kaaspakhuis in Woerden.