They say sweet dreams are made of cheese, so you can understand why I had to pinch myself a few times when Frico asked me if I'd like to join them in the Netherlands to experience a whole land of cheesey adventures. It's not every day that you have the opportunity to travel to the other side of the world to discover beautiful places and beautiful people, all in the name of one of my favourite ingredients. Even though I would consider myself someone who knows a thing or two about food, there's no denying I had so much to learn when it came down to the medieval artisan process that the Dutch do so very well.
With no rest for the wicked, the first day was filled to the brim with scenic Amsterdam activities capturing every angle of the beautiful city. Whether it was on foot, by boat, swinging from one of the highest points of the city or dining in a sunset-lit location, my first impression of the land of cheese was pretty spectacular. The day started with a guided tour of the incredible architectural landmark that is the Rijksmusem. Seeing original masterpieces in the flesh by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Vermeer was a huge highlight for me. Next, we took a private boat around the canals of Amsterdam, enjoying a traditional high tea lunch of cheese-filled sandwiches, pastries and sweets. Once we got off the boat, we took a short walk to travel up a very fast, laser-light-filled elevator to the top of the A'Dam Lookout to view the city via the Over the Edge swing. Before calling it a night, we tucked into the flavour station that is fondue at the appropriately named restaurant, Fondue & Fondue. Not like any fondue I've had before, these crimson pots were filled with melted cheese infused with local wild mushrooms, garlic, white wine and spices. Literally, a pot of gold at the end of colourful and creative day of sightseeing.
DAY 1: HISTORY, ART + CRUISING THE CANALS
DAY 1: VIEW FROM THE TOP
DAY 1: LIQUID GOLD: A FONDUE FEAST
Day 2 was a hands on education to say the least! Driving north to visit a local cheese farm De Deelen in Friesland, I couldn't get enough of how green the grass was. From milking a very happy cow, to trimming the pressed curd into perfect rounds, we saw where and how the milk is sourced and ultimately how the final product is made into creamy goodness. After a good dose of country air we made a quick stop for lunch at the very beautiful Giethoorn, before joining the team from Frico for one seriously inspiring culinary experience. Stepping into the Okura Hotel, we were wined and dined with a cheese-specific wine pairing workshop and even had our MasterChef skills put to the test with a our very own cook-off in the Taste of Okura Cooking School. Hanging up our aprons, we travelled to the 23rd floor of the hotel to be welcomed by executive chef Onno Kokmeijer to sit at the Chef's Table at Ciel Bleu (which currently holds 2 Michelin stars). Sipping on some of the world's finest champagne, we were treated to beautiful creations of caviar, king crab, strawberries, banana and caramel - all immaculately presented with complex layers of textures and flavours. So it was pretty much your standard restaurant experience?! I'm being incredibly sarcastic. This was A-MAZING and definitely another pinch myself moment. This day was a luxurious take on the paddock-to-plate concept and one I will never forget.
DAY 2: VISITING THE FRIESLAND DAIRY FARM + CHEESE FACTORY
DAY 2: WINE, WORKSHOPS + WONDERFUL FOOD
DAY 2: INSATIABLE MICHELIN-STARRED CUISINE
Just when I thought the Netherlands couldn't get any prettier, we took a trip to Gouda and the Zaanse Schans. Firstly, I found out I've been saying Gouda wrong my whole life. It's not pronounced 'goo-da' or 'gow-da' - it's in fact pronounced 'how-da' with a "haargh" sound at the beginning on the word. I also didn't realise before this trip that Gouda was an actual place. An incredibly beautiful place that's been known for cheese since the Middle Ages. Although it's famous for sweet, creamy yellow-rinded cheese - it's not because it's made there! The style of cheese originated from the surrounding regions when farmers would bring their product to the town centre market to be sold. Still today, they reenact the process, with rows of giant, golden wheels lining the square. I'm still getting my head around the concept of The Middle Ages! That kind of history is actually, incredible. But it wasn't ALL about cheese! I wasn't leaving until I'd tried some famous Dutch sweets made fresh to order at the market, including stroopwafels and poffertjes. And boy, oh boy were they yummy!
The history of the Netherlands continued to blow my mind when me when we made our final stop for the day at Zaanse Schans. What a way to end an incredible trip. A picturesque village lined with giant windmills that are hundreds of years old and still operate today. Taking a guided walking tour of this quaint little town, we discussed everything from Dutch chocolate to clogs, to mustard milling and the history of the village. There were also flowers everywhere, and I mean everywhere! And, as you can imagine I loved every, single minute of it. Returning to my superb accommodation at the beyond-comfortable INK Hotel (I honestly wanted to take the bed and the wall art with me), I joined my lovely Dutch hosts for one last, delicious hurrah at the Pressroom restaurant. Sipping on exotic cocktails and eating tasty plates, we talked about the amazing time we've all had, and also laughed a considerable amount at my terrible attempts at speaking Dutch. "...Haagghh-ow-da."
Day 3: GOUDA IN ALL ITS GLORY
DAY 3: LAST STOP - THE WINDMILLS + WILDFLOWERS OF THE ZAANSE SCHANS
SO LONG, FAREWELL
Well, what more can I say?! An opportunity of a lifetime, a culinary experience like no other and a place I can't wait to visit again. Dank je wel Frico (that's thank you in Dutch)! I had the most amazing time in the Netherlands. The land of cheese really is a magical place.
If you'd like to know more about the land of cheese, please click here.