You must eat cheese!
By Jessica Joseph
Located a few miles north of the busy city of Amsterdam is a quiet countryside filled with popular Dutch icons. Open meadows are littered with windmills that tower over open walking paths, and Dutch style homes create a cozy neighborhood.
Visitors to the village of Zaanse Schans get a taste of what the Netherlands looked like in the 1800s and 1900s. Zaanse Schans offers many attractions to over 1 million tourists each year – a clog making demonstration, windmill tour and, most deliciously, a cheese demonstration. The historic buildings were placed there in 1961, and according to its website, this living and working community continues to evolve with the foremost goal remaining the preservation of its unique heritage. Zaanse Schans is a cooperative venture made up of various foundations and associations, restoration companies and local business and residents groups.
The cheese shop proved to be the craziest attraction — tourists zooming in and out, tasting samples, buying souvenirs to take home. An employee dressed in traditional Dutch clothing first gave visitors some information behind Henri Willig cheese and some fun facts: One of the most popular cheeses produced at Henri Willig is gouda, pronounced ghow-da in Dutch; mustard is a popular condiment eaten with cheese; after the whey and curd is separated and the solidified cheese has sat in a salt water bath, the cheese is covered with a special wax and set aside to sit. The employee said the cheese sits for about six to seven months on average, but the time can vary. She also said that one kilo cheese needs to be flipped once a day unless the fat will settle on the sitting side.
When asked about any key ingredients, an employee described a crucial animal extract: “From the stomach of a calf, rennets are a special [substance] to make the milk thick. Plants also have rennets, but animal extract is better. It is a crucial step in the process of making cheese.” Rennets are required in the process of separating the curds and whey. And as the demonstrator mentioned, it is a key element of cheese. Without the extract, the separation would not occur and makers would be left with milk.
After the cheese demonstration, visitors are led to the shop area. A counter to the right yields dozens of samples of cheese, constantly being restocked. The employees behind the counter are friendly and open to answer any questions about the cheeses that are set out to sample before purchases. Among the types of cheese available the day the Point Park group visited included herbs and garlic, goat cheese, pepper, smoked, and pesto. The cheese can come from cow, goat or sheep’s milk.
Known to individually eat seven pounds of cheese annually, the Dutch love their cheeses. Cheese has been proved to be around since 200 B.C. – remains of cheese making equipment have been found in the Iberian Peninsula (Spanish/Portuguese origins) – and Holland became a central position for dairy farms and cheese making in the Middle Ages due to the ideal climate and soil for grass and dairy cows. Since then, the Dutch have developed a leadership in the dairy industry. Visitors seem to flock to Dutch cheese, making dairy a big contributor in the Dutch economy.
There are a ton of other souvenirs to buy in the cheese shop: lotions, sheepskins, teddy(sheep)bears, keychains, cheese graters, cheese knives, and so much more. Everything in the shop is reasonably priced, and members of the Point Park group found them perfect to bring home to remember the trip.
After filtering through the shop, visitors are able to see windmills scattered in every direction. There are only a few left of the hundreds of windmills that used to power through the wind at Zaanse Schans and throughout the Netherlands. In addition to the cheese and windmills, small houses imitate the old unique, wooden Dutch architecture.
Open from 10 in the morning to 5 in the evening, Zaanse Schans is just a 15-minute train ride away from Amsterdam’s Central Station followed by a short 10-minute walk. In the old neighborhood of Zaanse Schans, visitors will receive the full Dutch atmosphere. To take in the sites with more background information, walking tours are available. The people in Zaanse Schans have been giving tours for more than 40 years. Visitors are also given the opportunity to spend the night at Zaanse Schans after experiencing the Dutch guild of cheese making as the site includes hotels and bed and breakfasts.