What could be more authentically Dutch than the wooden shoe? A wheel of Gouda cheese, perhaps? Jane Pauley decided to check out both:
Away from the historic canals, on the outskirts of Amsterdam, life starts early at the Clara Maria Farm.
Every day since he was a boy, Kees-Jan van Wees has milked the cows in this 160-year-old building. "I really wanted to be a farmer when I was a kid, so I already knew what I wanted to do."
Just hours later, he'll turn that milk into a Dutch product beloved around the world: Gouda cheese.
His family has been making the cheese, named for the nearby town of Gouda, at this farm for 110 years. Gouda has been made in the Netherlands since the 12th century.
Twenty-two years ago, American Katrina van Wees visited the farm while on vacation. She was feeding the cows with other tourists when a loud horn started honking. It was Kees-Jan sitting on his tractor.
"And I was very startled because I thought, 'Everybody's feeding the cows.' And then I thought, 'He's really cute!'" she recalled.
"I thought, I better honk this horn and see what's up there," Kees-Jan laughed. "She really got my attention."
They soon married, and took over his family business.
She admits she knew nothing about making cheese, but it quickly became her passion. Her husband even created a variety just for her.
"I came into the room and I saw him crying," she recalled, "and I thought something horrible had happened. And it was my husband with this huge can of jalapeno chilies, and he was grinding up the little chilies to put into the cheese for me! And I just thought it was the sweetest thing that he'd ever done.
"He named it Farmer's Flame for me, because I just love Tex-Mex food."
It wasn't long before the couple added another Dutch tradition to their body of work: wooden shoes. The people of this waterlogged region have been wearing them for 700 years.
Kees-Jan explained that wood is very good insulation, "so it protects the foot also from cold and heat, and because the shoe is high, so if the floor was wet, you still have dry feet because the shoe is high."
Today, there are fewer than 30 wooden shoemakers left in the Netherlands -- but Gouda continues to be a staple at every meal.
Two hallmarks of Holland, custom-made on one small farm...
"It is a part of the tradition here," said Katrina, "and it is what people are interested in. It's fun to be a part of that, to be able share that with them and explain it to them."
For more info:
- Clara Maria Cheese Farm & Clog Factory, Amstelveen, The Netherlands