If there had ever been any doubt in my mind that the Dutch loved their dairy, I certainly lost it last fall during my studying abroad in a sleepy Dutch town. I could ride my bike in any direction and not have to travel far before spotting a herd of cows grazing the flat land. And, during a weekend trip to Amsterdam, my friends and I managed to scrape together an incredibly satisfying (and free) lunch by walking into every cheese shop we passed and accepting a few samples. It didn’t take more than five blocks before we were full. If I were told that every three blocks in Amsterdam was required by law to house a cheese shop, I probably would believe it.
As the BBC reports, the Dutch eat a lot of cheese. Like, a lot. The country has more than 1.6 million dairy cows to its name, which is almost as much as the UK, a country about six times larger. They produce over 715,000 tons of cheese per year, over two times the amount the UK produces. As the largest cheese exporter in the world, the Dutch export two thirds of their cheese and eat the other third themselves.
On average, a Dutch person eats 25% more than people in the UK, US, or Germany. A glass of milk accompanying a meal, a handful of cheese cubes at a bar, or a breakfast of cheese slapped between two pieces of bread are all common occurrences in the Netherlands. Whenever my class abroad had a field trip with lunch provided, I could always count on receiving a simple cheese-and-bread sandwich.
While our shared love of cheese made me feel right at home in the Netherlands, I have to admit that I did sometimes feel a little out of place in a room full of Dutch people, as most of them towered a good six inches above me. While the average American man is about 5’9″, the average Dutch man is over 6 feet tall, and the average Dutch women is 5’7″, making Netherland residents some of the tallest people in the world.
How did the Dutch go from being a country of short people to towering over us? (At an average of 5″4″ in the 1800s, they were three inches shorter than the average American.) Some people credit their national growth spurt to cheese. The calcium in dairy, after all, is said to be great for growing bones, and the Dutch certainly get enough to make their bones grow tall. The fact that immigrants living in the Netherlands tend to be taller than people in their native country supports this claim.
Though the theory hasn’t exactly been scientifically proven, I’m definitely going to use this as an excuse the next time anyone questions why I am pouring so much cheese onto my pasta.