(Australian Associated Press)
I’m learning to pronounce the letter G in Dutch, which takes on a harsh, gargling sound coming straight from the throat.
This practice is going to come in handy as my friends and I are heading to the Netherlands’ famous cheese-making town of Gouda (Dutch pronunciation: Gow-da).
My friend Rob tells me that Gouda has plenty of what Holland is known for – canals, bicycles, beer – but without the tourist hordes of Amsterdam.
“I like it here. It seems more like a village,” Rob says.
He’s right but what he forgot to mention was the city’s ornate 15th century architecture, cobbled streets or stroopwafels, the delicious Dutch syrup waffles.
Gouda is a relatively small city of just over 70,000 and exudes a shoulder-to-haunch closeness of its buildings that makes it feel like a hamlet at times. Add to that a spider’s web of canals and it’s easy to understand the appeal of this picturesque alternative to the larger Dutch cities.
Of course to really enjoy Gouda it also helps if you love cheese. The city’s name is synonymous with bright orange slabs of cow’s milk cheese, which were first produced in the 12th century.
For centuries, farmers from surrounding towns have brought their produce to Gouda’s famous cheese market – The Waag (weigh house) – which dates back to 1668. During the summer months, cheese is weighed every Thursday morning in an attractive ceremony.
Cheese porters wear white uniforms and lacquered straw hats and carry the cheese on barrows painted in the colour of their section. The cheese is then carried to The Waag, where the weighing master calls out the correct weight and writes it down on a blackboard.
In the Middle Ages official dairy markets and weigh houses were introduced as a way to control the quality and the weight of the cheese.
Although production has been taken over by factories, there are still more than 600 farms mostly in the provinces of South Holland and Utrecht that produce what is known as “Boerenkaas” (farmers’ cheese), made from unpasteurised milk.
Cheese aside, Gouda is also home to several standout buildings.
The first is Sint Janskerk (St John’s Church) – the longest church in The Netherlands. With a nave of 123 metres, this 16th century Gothic landmark features a stunning collection of stained-glass windows. A wide variety of biblical scenes are depicted in superb detail as well the life of St John the Baptist, the patron saint of Gouda.
The other architectural attraction is Gouda’s Stadhuis. At the centre of Gouda’s market square, this 15th-century Gothic town hall building is the backdrop for the outdoor cheese market. It’s also worth a visit to take in the decorations of the wedding hall (Trouwzaal) with its enormous 17th century tapestry and great views across the city.
Tired of sightseeing, Rob whisks me away to a cosy beer cafe (De Goudse Eend) in Wilhelminstraat to round off our visit. With 123 speciality beers on the menu and a kaleidoscope of colours and flavours, I’m knocked out by the array of brews. In the end I settle for a refreshing cherry beer.
Looking at the beer’s label, which lists the alcohol content at nine per cent, Rob looks across at me and laughs.
“I think we’re going to be staying in Gouda for a little bit longer.”
IF YOU GO:
GETTING THERE: Gouda can be reached by train from Amsterdam central station in just over 50 minutes. A one way ticket costs 11.30 euros ($A17.76). Multiple carriers fly to Amsterdam via Asia or the Middle East.
From April until September, you can visit the Gouda cheese market every Thursday morning. Details: www.goudsewaag.nl and www.welcometogouda.com
– Gouda’s Stadhuis is one of the oldest Gothic town halls in the Netherlands. Entry is 2.50 euros ($A4) and it is open from Tuesday to Sunday.
– Sint Janskerk (St John’s Church) is 123-metres long – the longest in the Netherlands and has splendid stained-glass windows.
– De Goudse Eend beer cafe is located at Wilhelminastraat 66. Details: cafedegoudseeend.nl
* The writer travelled at his own expense.