At only 2 hours from Brussels and 1 hour from Amsterdam, you can find the cheese region of The Netherlands, Cheese Valley. Gouda and its surrounding villages are known for their cheese production, with numerous farmers producing Gouda cheese, more than 15 million kg of cheese stored in Woerden, and countless kinds of cheese to taste. But did you know that Gouda cheese is actually not made in Gouda? It’s produced in its surrounding villages and sold in the city!
In this blog post, I’ll let you know which cheesy adventures are worth a stop so you can plan your own weekend in Gouda and its surroundings. Are you ready to dive into a lot of cheese?
Note: I was invited on this trip by Cheese Valley. Nevertheless, all the experiences and opinions in this blog post are my own.
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A weekend in Cheese Valley
Day 1: exploring Schoonhoven
From Belgium, I arrived in Cheese Valley by train, more specifically in Gouda. If you depart from Antwerp, this is approximately a 2-hour train ride changing trains in Rotterdam. However, for the weekend we had a car at our disposal. If you want to see the entire region this is absolutely a must. If you just want to visit Gouda on a city trip, then going by train is perfectly fine!
After arriving in Gouda, I drove to the small town of Schoonhoven. This might not ring a bell, but Schoonhoven is actually known as the Silver City of The Netherlands because the only silver school in the country is located here. Many renowned silver artists have studied here and their works, including historical artifacts can be found in the Dutch Silver Museum.
Hence, visiting this museum is an absolute highlight during your time in Schoonhoven. In the museum, you’ll see the typical ‘Zeeuwse Knoop’, an ornamental button that was used on traditional Dutch clothing. Every Dutch town has its own variant of it, in silver of course! Something else you’ll encounter in the exposition is the silver spoons. At birth, every baby used to get a silver spoon. In case something happened with their parents they would still have something valuable to sell to survive. The rest of the collection includes crown jewels, silverware for dining, trophies, and many other interesting objects. You can even see a real silversmith at work. Worth a visit!
When you walk through the streets of Schoonhoven today, you can still see many silversmith shops selling jewelry and other kinds of silverwork. Perfect for some shopping! When looking down you might notice small tiles in front of certain houses. These indicate the original location of ancient silversmith workshops. Some of them still exist today.
Other things you should have seen in Schoonhoven:
- take a look at the Veerpoort, a historic gate to the city center
- stroll over ‘t Witte Bruggetje, a small traditional white bridge that forms the entrance of the tiny harbor. In the meantime, take a look at the boats in the harbor as well!
- pass by Springer Park, part of the ancient defense system and city wall
- go (jewelry) shopping at canal Haven
To end the day in Schoonhoven I had dinner at Rivero Schoonhoven, an excellent restaurant located at the river. Not only is it a super cozy place to sit, the chef is also excellent and prepared dinner with only local ingredients, such as a “stolweitje” (egg from Stolwijk), a hybrid veal-mushroom burger and oven-baked krimpenerwaard apple. So delicious!
Hotel tip: during my stay in Schoonhoven I stayed one night at Hotel Belvédère, a nice 3-star hotel on the riverside with a nice view of the water. The rooms are spacious and the breakfast is nice, but the best part is undoubtedly the location, close to the water and at walking distance from the center!
Day 2: a tour of local delicacies
Visiting Cheese Farm Hoogerwaard
On the second day, I left Schoonhoven in the morning to explore more of the entire Cheese Valley region. And this is where the cheese comes in! The first stop of the day was Cheese Farm Hoogerwaard. This is one of the local farms that you can actually visit. Here, owner Teus shows you how he makes the traditional Gouda Farmer’s Cheese.
Farmer’s Cheese is special because the milk that is used for the production of the cheese comes straight from the cow (raw milk) and is not pasteurized like with industrial cheeses. Therefore, Farmer’s Cheese is more tasteful and healthier than other cheeses. It always carries the label ‘Boerenkaas’. The recipe for Gouda cheese is also not protected, which means that anyone can make this kind of cheese anywhere in the world. If you want real Gouda cheese, carefully look at the label that says “Gouda Holland”.
Not only does Teus show you how he makes the cheese, but I also had the chance to coat the cheese myself. Because after cheese is produced, it gets a layer of coating to preserve it well. These days most producers use machinery for it, but Teus still does it by hand! If you’re lucky during the tour, you also get to meet some of the cute calves. And of course, you get to taste & buy some cheese as well.
Do you know… the difference between “young”, “belegen” and “old” cheese? Up to 3 months old, cheese is considered “young”. From 3 to 9 months, it is called “belegen” (a typical Dutch term), and after 9 months the cheese is officially “old”. So if you keep your cheese long enough, you’ll eventually have old cheese!
Woerden – storage center for Gouda cheese
After Hoogerwaard, I continued my tour at Woerden. This town is known as the place where all the cheese from the entire region is stored. It has several large warehouses where up to 15 million kg of cheese is stored before it gets sold or shipped. One of the warehouses has kept its original form since 1937 and was transformed into a visitor center.
So next to the tourism office, you can now visit Kaaspakhous (or Cheese Warehouse) Woerden. It’s quite impressive to see how these cheeses are stored and ripened. At the entrance of the warehouse, you can even measure yourself in cheese. For your information, I weigh 4 cheeses. 😉
At Woerden, I had lunch at De Woerdenaar, a cozy lunch spot that can be considered a real hidden gem. It is known for its fresh & local ingredients coming from farmers in the neighborhood. Absolutely worth a stop!
Another must-visit in Woerden is the windmill ‘De Windhond’. This traditional Dutch flour mill is still in operation today after 600 years! During its operating hours, you can just walk in to buy a bag of flour, and maybe the miller is willing to give you a little tour up the mill, which gives you an amazing view of Woerden!
And if you happen to be in Woerden on a Saturday, don’t miss the farmer’s market at Kerkplein or the seasonal (May till August) farmer’s and cheese market from 11:00 to 13:00.
De Molen beer factory
Yes, the Dutch also make beer! As a Belgian, I’m often very skeptical about non-Belgian beer, but brewery De Molen really knows how to create unique flavors! This brewery, conveniently located inside an old windmill (hence the name), went from brewing some 500 liters per week to producing no less than 10.000 liters a day. Today, they have outgrown their mill, but this is still the place where you can taste some of their award-winning beers. Don’t forget to order some Dutch “bitterballen” with the beer to have the full experience!
Tip: climb up the mill and enjoy the view of the surroundings!
Back to Gouda
On my second day in Cheese Valley, I ended the day in Gouda with a delicious dinner at restaurant De Kleischuur. I swear this was the best dinner I’ve had in months, and definitely the best restaurant I ate in Cheese Valley. Its terrace on the waterside is not only extremely cozy, but the chef only cooks with biological, local, and seasonal ingredients. This means that you won’t find any olives in the dishes for example, as olives are not locally grown. You can choose from a 4 or 5-course menu with paired wines or non-alcoholic drinks. The menu is fixed so each course is a complete surprise!
Hotel tip: I stayed at the Best Western Plus City Hotel Gouda. This 4-star hotel is definitely a very decent option to stay at in the city. It’s conveniently located within walking distance from all attractions and offers spacious rooms and an elaborate breakfast buffet.
Day 3: exploring Gouda
No visit to Cheese Valley would be complete without a visit to Gouda, right? Time to discover the city! After storing my luggage at the hotel, I walked in the direction of Berg’s Bakery, a traditional syrup waffle bakery. Here they produce 25.000 syrup waffles a day and the owner is happy to give you a workshop so that you can also bake your own syrup waffle. It’s actually super simple, plus, nothing tastes better than your own waffle right? Mine was delicious!
Next up was another cheese tasting at De Goudse Waag. This building, where you can nowadays find the tourist office, used the be the trading center of Gouda cheese. Here the farmers came together to get their cheese weighed and priced so they could sell them.
Today it is a cheese and crafts museum where you can learn more about Gouda cheese (they have tastings with beer and wine pairing!), but also other local products like candles and pipes from Gouda. You can visit the museum with an audio tour and optional tasting. In front of De Goudse Waag, you can find a farmer’s market each Saturday, and at specific moments of the year also a cheese market.
After all these delicacies, I did what you should do in every Dutch city, go on a boat tour on the canals! One hour long, a shipper of Reederij de IJsel explained everything about the history of the city based on the buildings we encountered along the way. We learned how to notice when a ship is completely paid off, why there are houses that are constructed looking like they could fall over any minute, and passed by bridges that were opened by hand by a bridge keeper. Seeing Gouda from the water was definitely an interesting experience!
That afternoon, I had lunch at the brand-new Brunch Boutique (not that I was hungry already ;)). It’s located in a super cozy street and is the picture-perfect place for a delicious and healthy brunch. I had a mix of the melted brie and salmon toast and loved it!
After lunch, it was time for me to go home, but if you want to walk around in Gouda and see more of the city, I can recommend:
- admire the Sint-Janskerk
- visit the Gouda Cheese Experience
- learn more about syrup waffles at Kamphuisen Siroopwafelfabriek
- visit D.G. van Vreumingen, the oldest tabac shop in The Netherlands
- visit Museum Gouda
Are you ready to plan your own cheesy adventure?
I hope with all the tips in this blog post, you have all the information to plan your own weekend to Cheese Valley and Gouda. If you want to see more of this delicious trip, check my reel and story highlights on Instagram for the full experience!