On our Southern Tour of Holland, our intern Alina cycled through the Green Heart of Holland to the city of Gouda, with its 73,000 inhabitants. Here she shares some interesting things she learnt about this most Dutch of cities.
Anyone who’s ever visited Gouda knows how impressive the city looks – especially when you’re staring up at the fairytale town hall from the middle of the market place.
The Four Cs of Gouda
Despite its name being synonymous for cheese, Gouda is so much more than a cheese capital. On the tour I learnt a lot about the city, including three non-dairy creations for which it also has a reputation. Coincidentally they also start with the letter “C”.
Curious to find out what the four Cs of Gouda are? Read on!
First things first. Despite its international reputation, Gouda cheese is not actually produced directly in the city of Gouda, but in the towns around it. In Krimpenerwaard you’ll find meadows with slowly munching cows; cheese production takes place in the town of Woerden; and the finished product is stored in Bodegraven-Reeuwijk. These collective communities form the Cheese Valley of the Netherlands – a very apt name considering the local industry!
Gouda’s traditional cheese market takes place every Thursday, from April to August, where cheese is still sold just as it was hundreds of years ago. In fact, the market dates back to 1395, and has thrived ever since. In the last 70 years especially, a growing number of international cheese shoppers and spectators have added to the hustle and bustle, joining in to taste the local produce and observe the trading action.
In fall and winter, even if there’s no cheese market in action, there are still plenty of local cheese shops to visit. I visited “‘t Kaaswinkeltje” and was thrilled to find about 200 different kinds of cheese, many for tasting and taking home. A lot of the cheese is vacuum-packed – preserved without pasteurization – so you can still enjoy real farm cheese at home.
Caramel waffle cookies (or stroopwafels, to be precise)
Gouda has another lesser-known culinary claim to fame: it’s the home of the stroopwafel!
With two layers of crunchy waffle biscuit glued together by a sweet and sticky syrup, you might have tasted these Dutch delicacies in other parts of the Netherlands, or even in your home country, as they can be found in all Dutch supermarkets and in many quality food stores abroad.
Legend has it that a Gouda baker invented the stroopwafel in the mid-1800s as a way to use leftover biscuit crumbs, sweetening them with caramel syrup. For a long time this sweet treat was therefore known as poor people’s food. Around 1870 the cookie spread beyond its hometown to become a beloved national snack.
Despite its international reputation the Netherlands is maybe the only place where you can experience a freshly made stroopwaffel, as at many local markets a baker will prepare one while you wait. And here’s a tip for eating stroopwafels at home: set the waffle on top of a hot cup of tea or coffee for a few minutes – the caramel core will soften and the waffle will melt in your mouth.
Another traditional local industry from Gouda is candle-making. In the middle of the 19th century Gouda became famous for its high-quality candles, which burn evenly for many hours. These special candles gained such a reputation they even received a royal warrant in 1899.
In modern times, these candles are still used for a very special event every December: for one whole evening all of Gouda’s lights are switched off, and the whole city shines in soft candle light – the town hall alone is illuminated by 2500 candles! A towering Christmas tree festooned with light bulbs stands before the town hall in the square, and the mayor gives a speech. There’s nothing more moving for getting in the Christmas mood!
Gouda’s last creation beginning with “c” is the city’s monumental church of St John, or Sint Janskerk. With a length of 123 meters it’s the longest church in the Netherlands. Despite its impressive size and crowd-pulling gothic architecture, the church’s most spectacular sight is its magnificent stained-glass windows from the 16th century.
Filled with scenes from the Bible, these impressively detailed windows are rich with action and drama. When caught by a ray of sun the windows radiate ruby red, emerald green and golden yellow and its figures spring into vibrant life.
Gouda is also home to other historic churches from the city’s pious past such as the Gouwekerk, the Agnietenkapel and the Sint-Joostkapel.
Discover Gouda’s treasures
As you can see, Gouda’s strong identity can not only be witnessed in its churches, town hall and marketplace, but can also be tasted in its cheese and sweets.
Want to experience Gouda’s treasures for yourself? I highly recommend it! Here are the boat bike tours that travel through this wonderful city: