In which we discover that a cautionary tale can be sometimes ineffective, that lots of cheese actually can be too much of a good thing and that you should never follow fairies anywhere. There is also excessive dancing, towers of cheese and many tiny sparkling lights.
What did you think? I loved this story on many levels but the food descriptions were just wonderful and sadly this cautionary tale did not stop my deep desire for cheese. It just made me make a plate of cheese and crackers and make a firm commitment to myself to stay out of anything even vaguely resembling a fairy ring. Obviously, you can guess we’ll be discussing cheese later but first I think we need to discuss cautionary tales and fairy rings.
A Cautionary Tale
As cautionary tales go this one is fairly mild. The original tales usually had the children concerned subjected to a terrible grisly fate which they didn’t survive or at the very least caused the loss of fairly essential body parts. Strictly speaking, a cautionary tale should have three elements, starting with a warning about not completing a specific action, then the child does it anyway and this results in a awful fatality via the means they were warned about.
This includes books like ‘Struwwelpeter’, written in 1845 by Heinrich Hoffman who was surprisingly a psychiatrist. It has a variety of terrible tales including a child who starves to death because he doesn’t like soup and a little girl who plays with matches and sets herself on fire. The most worrying one is the title story in which a boy has his thumbs chopped off with huge scissors because he won’t stop sucking them. This book was worryingly popular with parents, running to 100 editions 20 years after it was first published.
There is an American book where a child who cries a lot ends up losing her eyeballs. The same book has a little girl who loses a leg for playing with boys. This theme seems to be fairly common as there is an English tale where a little girl who plays with boys too much so she is turned into one and sent off on a sailing ship.
At least she didn’t lose any body parts before leaving. I suppose you could class Little Red Riding Hood as a cautionary tale too. In the original she is eaten by a wolf because she spoke to a stranger (no last-minute saving by the woodsman here) which does seem a little harsh. They do say all men are wolves though so maybe that’s the true warning.
Hilaire Belloc wrote his 1907 parody of these tales in ‘Cautionary Tales for Children: Designed for the Admonition of Children between the ages of eight and fourteen years’ but some pretty horrid things still happen. Jim gets eaten by a lion because he leaves his nurse, Matilda burns to death for telling lies and Henry dies of over-consumption of string. I was particularly distressed by Jim’s tale as a child because he was eaten from the feet upwards, leaving his head! I definitely preferred the poems of A A Milne.
We have got a long way from Klaas and his over consumption of cheese here but frankly he’s lucky he survived! To give him credit, he was apparently otherwise a very well behaved boy and no-one actually told him not to run off with the fairies and eat cheese until he was crushed by a toppling tower of cheese. I have also noted if no-one else has, that it doesn’t say that it put him off cheese!
Fairy Rings & Changelings
The fairies are another matter completely. There are two avenues for exploration here, dancing in a fairy ring and child abduction by fairies. Stories of abduction of children by fairies are very common in the British Isles. There is a strong tradition of changeling children where mortal children are stolen and replaced with older fairies who look like children but are usually elderly and sickly. The changeling story has a dark side, sometimes being used to explain the death of children with disabilities or differences.
There were various charms that could be used to prevent the child being taken. These included but weren’t limited to placing cold iron in cradles and never leaving the child alone. In certain areas of the Scottish Highlands, cows were encouraged to eat bog-violet and then anyone who drank the milk from these cows would be safe from supernatural influences. This included any children who drank the milk who were then protected from fairy abduction.
The Blacksmith & The Fairies
Klaas at 12 was a bit old for abduction as the fairies seemed to prefer infants and younger children. However there is an unusual Scottish story of a blacksmith whose 14 year old son was taken and a replacement left. The blacksmith was given advice on how to retrieve his son from a fairy mound safely. He does retrieve his boy but the boy remains in a dreaming state for a year and a day until he awakens fully and shows his father how to make better swords as taught by the fairies. They then become known for the quality of their swords and grow rich in the process.
Why You Shouldn’t Enter A Fairy Ring
There isn’t really a suggestion in this story though, that the fairies intended to kidnap Klass permanently. Their intention seems to be to entice him into their fairy ring with the thing he desires the most. The cheese doesn’t appear until he falls asleep, exhausted by the fairy dancing. Everyone who has read English stories about fairy rings will recognise that he got off very lightly. Usually the punishment for a mortal dancing in a fairy ring is that they must dance until they die of exhaustion.
The alternative is that they only dance for what feels like a few minutes and then leave to find that years or decades have gone by. There is a least one tale where the protagonist leaves the ring to find his great grandson living in his house, grown with a family of his own. When this time shift happens the shock of all those years hitting the mortal at once then results in their death.
In Dutch folklore the rings are said to be made by the devil placing his milk churn down and the circle would sour the milk of any livestock who entered it.
Fairy rings aren’t all bad though, Welsh folklore states that it is luck to to graze cows, sheep and goats near to the rings and that they also promote fertility. They still don’t recommend entering the circle. In Germany they are said to be ‘witches rings’ where witches dance on Walpurgis night to welcome Spring. You can also apparently prevent harm happening to you in the circle, if you turn your hat the wrong way round or your coat inside out to confuse the fairies. In Northumberland you have to run round the ring 9 time before entering the circle. It was important to count though, as if you ran around 10 times you were back to where you were before you started running.
Dutch Cheese – Varieties & History
Holland is still a really big exporter of cheese, exporting 2/3 of their production. We tend to only know think about Gouda and Edam but there are lots of others: Beemster, Graskaas, Leerdammer, Leyden, Limburger, Maaslander, Maasdam, Mimolette, Nagelkaas, Parrano, Roomano, Prima Donna and Vlaskaas are all Dutch. The Netherlands has always been a big cheese maker as many areas of the country has damp soil which is ideal for grass growing and keeping cows.
It was so important to the country in the Middle Ages that bargemen even paid tolls in cheese. Dutch cheese was equally important in trade from 1400-1700 and its production was firmly associated with its people. This has remained true event to the present day and ‘Kaaskop’ (literally ‘cheese head) is an insulting term for Dutch people that was originally dreamed up by Napoleonic soldiers.
Traditionally, Dutch cheeses are not named after the place where they were made but after the town where they were sold. The big cheese markets of the Netherlands started very early with Haarlem the first to receive the right to hold a cheese market in 1266. Leiden followed in 1303, then Oudewater in 1326 and Alkmaar in 1365. Alkmaar is still very popular with locals and tourists alike. The market is set up to mimic the operation of the market during the post-medieval period. The market opens with the ringing of a bell, and visitors can watch the handjeklap and the weighing of cheeses on the cheese scales.
The majority of Dutch cheeses are made from cow’s milk although there are now a minority of goat’s milk cheeses being produced. There is archeological evidence of cheese being made in Holland in 800BCE and Julius Caesar even mentioned it in his book Bellum Gallicum in 80BCE
The Dutch Growth Spurt
The Dutch eat a lot of dairy, in particular cheese and there have even been investigations to see if this is the reason they are some of the tallest people in the world. One important fact is that growing tall appears to be contagious: immigrants who move to the Netherlands usually end up taller than people who remain in their home countries.
So it’s perfectly possible that the Dutch dairy addiction has played a major role in turning one of the world’s flattest places into a land of giants. It has also been suggested that it could also be down to genetics, better medical care and natural selection of taller men. This also does not appear to have had an affect on waistlines or cardio vascular conditions either.
Cheese Really Is Good For You
Recent research has found that interestingly, it seems that the overall amount of fat in cheese (which is typically largely saturated fat) doesn’t have a meaningful effect on cardiovascular or metabolic disease risk factors. Two separate randomised controlled trials tested the effects of regular-fat cheese on cholesterol levels and other metabolic disease risk factors. In one, neither fat-free nor regular-fat cheese increased total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood glucose after 8 weeks of daily intake.
The other, which compared low-fat (and regular-fat cheese, found that the regular-fat cheese did not increase total or LDL cholesterol, blood glucose, CRP (a major marker of inflammation), or waist circumference more than its low-fat counterpart. These findings suggest that the saturated fat content in cheese doesn’t quite have the effect on disease risk once assumed. This is believed to be because of the effect the process of fermentation on the saturated fat.
Dutch Cheese Flavours
Now that the science and history is out of the way, lets talk flavour of the most popular Dutch cheeses
- Edam is a semi-hard cheese that can age indefinitely without spoiling, so it dominated the world cheese trade in the 14th to 18th centuries. The flavour is mild and nutty when young, growing sharper with age. It’s great to pair with stone fruits and melons, as well as with crisp white and sparkling wines.
- Gouda is arguably the most famous Dutch cheese, accounting for more than 50% of the cheese eaten around the world. The term gouda has become synonymous with a wide range of cheeses made in the Dutch style, but the term “Gouda Holland” has protected status, and can only be made in the Netherlands using milk from Dutch cows. Young and aged goudas are distinctly different cheeses. A mature gouda has lots of flavour and a creamy but strong taste.with salt-like crystals that have developed during the natural process of maturing the cheese. It pairs well with a nice glass of white wine or a cold beer.
- Beemster became a dairy region in the 1600s, when the land was reclaimed from below sea level. The resulting meadows have mineral-rich grasses that give the cheese a distinctive flavour. Beemster is a Dutch cheese that was never popularised at a market, but instead has been defined and popularised by local dairy cooperatives. Beemster is a hard, aged, crystalline cheese with a complex flavor and smooth mouth feel. It can pair with any full-bodied, rich, red or white wine, and is also a great choice for dessert wine and sweets.
- Leyden cheese, or Leidse kaas, is very similar to Gouda, but has a lower fat content. It is flavoured with cumin seeds, and sometimes caraway or cloves are also added, for a spicy flavour that distinguishes it from most other Dutch cheeses. This hard cheese is buttery, tangy, and has an incredible flavor that works well on a cheese board, and pairs well with beer and dark bread.
I Say Recipe, You Say Suggestion
If you are anything like me you now just want to settle down with some cheese, a selection of different cold beers and a really good book but I don’t think I can get away with that as a recipe. So its another sandwich recipe and I’ll take the risk that I may have to change the name of the podcast to sandwiches I have known and loved. I might get way with suggesting that this is really an eggy bread, chilli cheese stack with some audiences but I know you’re all clever people and would see through that straight away.
I’m going to call it the recipe that though, just for the look of the thing. Essentially this is eggy bread made into a sandwich with gouda cheese and chilli jelly. You can also add sausages if you want to go the whole hog or even veggie sausages which actually work better. Its a thing of joy and beauty and I can call it an eggy bread chilli cheese stack if I want to.
Eggy Bread, Chilli & Gouda Stack
a splash of milk
4 slices sturdy bread of your choice
4 slices gouda,
2 tbsp chilli jelly
vegetable oil/olive oil
4 freshly cooked veggie sausages, sliced in half long ways
- Mix the milk and eggs together and pour onto a large plate with deep sides
- Dip both sides of each of the slices of bread into the egg mixture and pile up on the plate whilst you heat the oil
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat.
- Add two slices to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes each side until golden. Replace with the other two slices.
- Spread chilli jelly onto two of the slices
- When you have turned over the last two slices, add the cheese to the sliced bread in the pan.
- Then add the sausages & top with the chilli spread slices.
- When you see the cheese just starting to melt, remove the sandwiches from the pan and serve.
- Sausages are optional
Dutch Fairy Tales for Young Folks (1918) William Elliot Griffis
The Oxford Companion to Cheese, edited by Catherine Donnelly
Encyclopaedia of Superstitions – Edwin Radford, Mona Augusta Radford
Cheese, A Global History – Andrew Dalby
Cautionary Tales for Children: Designed for the Admonition of Children between the ages of eight and fourteen years – Hillaire Belloc 1907
Struwwelpeter – Heinrich Hoffman
Featured image credit: Floris van Dyck , Still-Life with Fruit, Nuts and Cheese 1615