by Theodorus Eko Pramudito
The title might sound like a non sequitur joke at first because what does our culture have anything to do with how Dutchmen enjoy their cheese? But then again try to close your eyes and imagine the things that pop in your mind when I mention ‘The Netherlands’. Windmills, tulips, clog-shoes, and of course cheese. Cheese, just like the aforementioned things, also contributes to the image of Netherlands to the point where it has become the identity of the country itself.
It’s no wonder because the Dutch have been indulged in this cheesy business since 200 BC based on archeological discovery of cheese-making equipment. But the whole industry began to take off from 400 AD to the middle ages and since then cheese began to flourish all across the lowlands and exported to other countries and kingdoms. By the time of Dutch Golden Age, the reputation of Netherlands as the holy land of cheese lovers has solidified. All of this thanks to what presumed to be unfortunate disadvantage of Netherlands geographical profile. Being located below sea level caused the grasslands of Netherlands, especially in Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, and Friesland, to be suitable ground for dairy farming thanks to its wet soil.
Fast forward to present day, the Netherlands produce 674 metric tons of cheese and two third are exported to 130 countries all around the world. This global-scale traditional industry has a turnover of 7 billion Euros each year. The Dutch global dominion over cheese market is mainly thanks to their noble tradition of upholding high standard in their product. Since 1913, the Dutch government has set a quality mark for their cheese products even to the point where fat content is set for every types of regional cheese.
For the Dutch, being traditional does not refer to inferior quality compared to modern product and the same principle also applies to their cheese. On the contrary, traditionally made cheese ensures the best natural taste without compromising quality. Names such as Edam, Gouda, and Leyden, have spread globally bringing not only great taste to dinner’s table but also prestige to the respective towns and cities. Cheese has also helped the Dutch preserving their culture by showcasing how their ancestors handle cheese in traditional cheese markets. You can witness this ritual every summer in towns such as Alkmaar and Edam.
But what can we learn from the Dutch cheese-a-holic attitude? For starter, we must appreciate our culture doesn’t matter how seemingly insignificant they are at first. The Dutch can achieve global recognition from little marshlands by cheese alone and being passionate in developing and nurturing it. For us Indonesians, with rich and colorful culture, we have so many things to be passionate about. What we consider ignoble might ultimately form our identity as a nation. It may sound silly but remember this, every time we take a bite of a kaastengel, we are enjoying a part of honorable cultural heritage from the land far away called the Netherlands.