No matter where we travel, we know that food will be involved. After all, everyone needs to eat to survive. That doesn’t mean it has to be boring. For us, the culinary adventure is a large part of our explorations. When we were in the midst of planning our trip to Oskaloosa and Pella, we discovered a plethora of unique dishes. With the resurgence of tapas-style dining growing in popularity, we decided to embark on a Charcuterie Trail. This would certainly provide us with a sampling of the tastes of the heartland.
We want to thank Mahaska Chamber and Visit Pella for their hospitality. Rest assured all opinions are our own.
Our visit to central Iowa was planned for the middle of Spring, which meant everything was coming back to life. Throughout both cities, we found signs of rebirth, after our harsh winter. The sounds of birds chirping greeted us each morning. Flower beds were bursting out with a wide spectrum of colors, inviting us to slow down and take it all in. This was certainly the season to enjoy all of the delights that can be found throughout the region.
This visit to Oskaloosa and Pella was our first excursion into Dutch culture. Our adventure began in downtown Oskaloosa but had expanded to Pella. We had quickly discovered that bakeries are extremely popular with the Dutch. The aromas wafting from each of these shops tempted us each morning. When we could no longer resist, we dropped in for a look-see. Of course, that turned into a need to sample their wares to find out why so many people are eager to visit. The cases filled with pastries, cookies, and Dutch letters were too much to pass up. A small sampling made its way into our possession, but only temporarily. A nearby park bench was all we needed to complete an impromptu breakfast.
Starting Down the Charcuterie Trail
We knew that the pastries were not made for long-term storage, but there was one item on our list that was. Cheese-making has been a mainstay of Dutch culture for centuries. In fact, the first mention of Dutch-made Gouda cheese dates back to the 1100s. We are betting that they have it down to an art by now. To create a charcuterie trail, one certainly needs to have some cheese. The creamy and sweet flavor of Gouda pairs well with just about every other food we can think of, so it had to play a prominent part on our board. A visit to Frisian Farms Cheese House ensured that we were getting some of the best in the nation.
They Take Their Cheese Seriously
At the Pella Tulip Time Festival, we would learn just how seriously they take their cheese. Part of the demonstrations includes a little background on the Dutch cheese markets. While buyers and sellers haggled over the prices, teams stood ready to transport the wheels to a weighing house. What appears to be a bunch of pomp is actually based upon centuries of tradition. One of the oldest Dutch cheese markets has been in business since 1593. Every step of the process has been repeated over and over by generations of Dutch citizens. Watching the demonstration showed us how important Gouda cheese is to Dutch culture.
Don’t Mind if We Wine
With our cooler stocked up on Gouda, we knew that some wine would make an excellent beverage choice. Just down the road from the cheese factory, we found Tassel Ridge Winery. Located between Oskaloosa and Pella, this is one of the largest wineries in Iowa. Inside their tasting room, we found a wide range of wines to choose from. The owners were on hand to help us select the perfect wines to pair with our charcuterie trail items. One bottle of red and one of white would cover all of the bases. Back to the car to head toward Pella for more supplies.
Our time in Pella was focused on the Tulip Time Festival. Like most events of this type, they had a nice collection of food trucks and tents. Many were selling the standard festival foods, and a few of the local clubs were offering Dutch dishes. After surveying the options, we chose one that had some items that were new to us. A Pella Bologna & Smoked Gouda Sandwich brought some pleasant flavors to our taste buds. We also sampled a stick of Frikandel, which is a Dutch version of a meat stick. A combination of beef, chicken, and pork is seasoned with allspice, nutmeg, and other seasonings. Our dessert was called Dutch Delight, which features the almond flavor so readily available in Dutch baked goods.
Tastes of the Heartland
We collected some more supplies at shops around the downtowns of Oskaloosa and Pella. With a cooler filled full of goodies, we could hardly wait to sample our charcuterie trail findings. Back home, we create our first board made with the creamy cheeses we had collected during our visit. It also had some Blue Cheese Bologna that we found at In’t Veld Meat Market. Delicately decorated chocolates were found at Van Veen, while the Dutch cookies and crackers came from Ulrich Meat Market. We sprinkled in some fresh fruit and veggies and popped the cork on a bottle of Iowa wine.
As we continue to evolve our travel itineraries, we find adding new adventures keeps it all fresh. The idea of a Charcuterie Trail gave us a special purpose during our time in Oskaloosa and Pella. It was like a scavenger hunt that ended with a delicious meal at the end. Definitely a win-win for us. This was also a way to make memories that go beyond the adult education that we gained at the various stops during our visit. Since we all have to eat to survive, adding this culinary experience to our agenda made our excursion extra delightful.