A couple of things about the Netherlands:
If you spend any kind of time there, as I did, you will find a few things that bring you back again and again.
And I don’t just mean work or windmills.
For ten years, I had a large Dutch company as a client. I was there at least one day a week for 40 weeks every year. Yes I would spend some time in Amsterdam, but I spent as much time in outlying cities and towns – Groningen (not nearly as easy to pronounce as it looks); Amersfoort (easier); Rotterdam; Eindhoven and other smaller towns.
If you have a chance to visit a local supermarket, one of the many things you will notice is the Wall of Cheese.
There are those who say the French have it all over everyone else when it comes to cheese. I suppose the Italians, the Greeks and even the Spanish would have something to say about that.
But the Dutch are the ones who quietly offer some of the best cheeses in the world. And not just in the supermarket. There are shops devoted only to cheese in every little village, town and city you visit.
My personal favorite cheese is zeer oude Gouda. That’s “very old” Gouda cheese. It’s so old, you can see the bits of salt that have formed in it.
(I just had a slice of that cheese – had to, after writing about it.)
I remember as a 13-year-old coming off a Holland-America Line transatlantic voyage with my family on the S.S. Maasdam, disembarking at Rotterdam. We visited a cheese-making town where we saw wheels and wheels of cheese.
I didn’t learn to appreciate cheese (other than Velveeta and good old Kraft American slices) until decades later.
Another aisle in a typical Dutch supermarket is the candy and sweets aisle. In the Netherlands, half of that aisle is often devoted solely to licorice. Dropje in Dutch (pronounced “drope-yeh”). There is double-salted dropje, soft and chewy dropje, hard-as-nails dropje, “Good n’ Plenty”-style dropje, dropje that’ll pull your fillings out if you’re not careful. You’re not really Dutch if you don’t like dropje.
Now let’s turn to the other sweet things you will discover if you spend a little time in the Netherlands:
Stroopwaffel. “Syrup-waffle” in English doesn’t even begin to describe this luscious treat you eat with your morning coffee. They’re made to sit comfortably on the top of a cup of steaming coffee, so that they soften as they warm up. Mmmmm.
The other secret treat few casual tourists will discover, is the bitterkoekjes, or “almond macaroons.” Oh boy. I didn’t learn about these until long after I stopped coming to the Netherlands for work. It was on a holiday road trip we did in 2012 when we drove from Slovakia to the Netherlands with Sisi, to see our friends who live in Baarn (sounds pretty much like the farm building).
An especially good treat is one I discovered sitting in the bar of my small hotel in Amsterdam one night, probably just hanging out with the bartender. (Yes I did that a lot). There was this really old-looking crock-like bottle. It might even have had cobwebs hanging off it, it looked that old.
I asked the barkeep what it was. “Zeer oude jenever,” he said. That means “very old gin.”
I tried some. It was very smooth (cough, cough).
Now, this is all a lot of words to set up why I’m really writing this post:
We have just said goodbye to our friends from the Netherlands who visited for the weekend.
These are friends who are more than friends. They are the ones responsible for our landing in Slovakia, which means they are close friends indeed.
We’ve known Bart and Claire for more than a decade. Bart was a client of mine, but we became friends, the four of us, despite that detail.
We were at their wedding. We went on their honeymoon (Jackson Hole; long story). They introduced us to Slovakia (Bart lived here in the early ‘90s on a work-study program with his university). They have been to our chata more times than anyone else – half a dozen times at least.
This time, they came bearing gifts.
Everything I mentioned above came with them: the old hooch, the old cheese, the salty and hard-as-nails licorice. The cookies, both of them!
Plus one other gift: Sarah from East Grand Rapids Michigan (my old home town)
So you see, Bart and Claire are the best Dutch treats of all.