Kaasboerderij Simonhoeve (Cheese Farm)October 12 in the Netherlands
We're going to have to watch our waistlines! Yesterday was the pancake house and today we are staying at Simonhoeve Cheese Farm and Clog Makers; another business offering overnights for prospective customers. This place is the epitome of all things Dutch and is set up for boatloads of tourists. Even on a Wednesday in mid October there are countless coach parties rolling in. Set amongst fields with a hotel over the road, the car park has plenty of space so we choose a spot next to the central chicken pen, except this is no ordinary chicken pen. The small brood of Isa Brown hens are living the high life in a beautiful deep green thatched cottage, with plenty of room to roam. It looks as if they once lived in the mini wooden windmill welcoming visitors to the site. A plastic Friesian cow stands in their pen looking towards the van, giving us a shock every time we open our door.
After lunch we join one of the free tours led by guides in traditional costumes. We are with two Americans with an English speaking host but others talk to groups in Dutch, German and Spanish. The tour begins with a little intro showing us the cheese vat where 1000 litres of milk are being churned. The process is explained and we are shown the renate, the curds and whey, stirring paddles and the 1kg round of cheese this batch will make approximately 100 of. Our guide explains they used to use wooden bowls, but now they have switched to plastic to press the rounds because of hygiene.
Next we move on to the clog making, where we are shown the blocks of wood destined to become traditional Dutch shoes. Most are Poplar but Willow is used for special occasions. The demonstrator takes one that has been soaked for 3 days and puts in an automated lathe to shave the outer wood to the correct shape. Next they then manually control another machine, using an existing clog as a template to drill out the centre. We move on and our guide gives a demo of the traditional hand tools, which would take a skilled crafter 4 hours of hard graft to make a clog. Apparently they were the best shoes to keep feet dry, so used extensively by farmers. We are shown a range of different clogs, each with their own story; little ones with leather straps 'for the ladies', a large one with metal crampons for walking on ice, one painted in the traditional way, then another belonging to a different region with flowers symbolising love and birds symbolising freedom. A pair had patterns carved on them and we were told that in the past a man would do this when he wanted to marry. He would leave them outside the house of his love's family home and in the morning if they were still there then it was bad news. If they had been taken in by the parents then the wedding could go ahead. The special clogs would be worn then hung on the wall of the marital dwelling. It was said to be a bad omen if they fell and sometimes the parents had been known to give them a bit if a nudge if their son in law wasn't living up to expectations!
We looked around the clog shop and tried on a few pairs. There was some gorgeous paintwork mixed in with the outlandishly trashy tourist designs. The next room contained shelves lined with colourful rounds of cheese and a central island stacked with samples. We must have tried 20 different cheeses, including cumin cheese (a Dutch favourite), marijuana seed cheese (nutty), smoked, 2 year old gouda, pesto cheese and stinging nettle cheese. Will bought the smoked chilli cheese and a 1 year old gouda, while Vicky opted for a Dutch rasberry and redcurrant wine and we got some eggs that looked as if they'd been plucked straight from the coup.
After a cuppa in the van we decided to cycle into the village of Edam, just 3.5km away. We'd driven through its beautiful (if terrifyingly narrow) lanes on the way to our stopover and wanted to explore further. With the flat land and excellent quality cycle track we found ourselves in the cobbled streets in no time. We risked leaving the tandem chained only to itself (as everybody here seems to do) and began to wander on foot. Centred around the main canal, lined with young autumnal trees, Edam's brown brick houses certainly had charm. The windows of the cheese shop near where we left the bike were chock-a-block with huge rounds of orange coated cheese. Even the upper floor whose walls were clad with green wooden boards displayed racks of edam though its window panes. We made our way to the small square where the historic cheese market is still held every Wednesday. It was empty now, but a statue of two people carrying a crate of cheese rounds told us we were in the right place.
The whole village was immaculately presented with doors and shutters recently painted with a glossy sheen, church bells chiming a tune at every quarter and well maintained gardens. Despite neither of us being particularly keen on Edam cheese, it really was a lovely place to stroll for an hour.Read more