Dutch CheeseThe Dutch are world-famous for their long history of cheese-making, and for good reason -- it's delicious! Most cheese you'll encounter in Amsterdam and the Netherlands is of either the Gouda (pronounced "KHOW-duh" not "GOO-duh") or Edam variety, both of which get their names from Dutch towns. There are also several types of goat cheeses and farmer's cheese, or boerenkaas. I love the oud (old) cheese, which has a sharper flavor than jong (young), not unlike Parmesan. Leiden cheese, which features cumin seeds, is also a Dutch favorite. Be sure you have your cheese vacuum packed for getting it through customs.
Stroopwafels - Dutch CookiesIf you've never had a stroopwafel, you're missing out on one of life's best guilty pleasures. These addictive Dutch treats are made up of two thin waffle-cookie layers filled with sticky, sweet stroop (syrup). They're so buttery you have to lick your fingers, but too delicious to stop there -- I've never known anyone to have just one. The best place to buy them is either at the Albert Heijn grocery store -- I think the biologisch (organic) ones are best -- or from the man at the Albert Cuyp Market, who makes them right in front of you. If you buy them at the airport or in souvenir shops, you'll pay triple the price.
Dutch BeerAs a beer lover, I'd always assumed the Netherlands' southern neighbor (Belgium) had all the beer-making talent (I'm not a huge fan of Heineken). But I've learned there's a lot more to Dutch beer than the big-name brand you see on green signs all over Amsterdam. Go to De Bierkoning and you'll see what I mean. You'll find Dutch beers you never knew existed, including several from an organic brewery in Amsterdam, ranging from light pilsners to rich browns and dark stouts. I like to buy the special glass from each brewery to accompany the tasting packs I buy as gifts. Wrap the beers well and pack in checked luggage.
While the Swiss and the Belgians may be better-known for their chocolate, history tells us that the Dutch have long had a love affair with the cocoa bean. In fact, a Dutchman invented the cocoa press, which made chocolate-making easier and thus brought it to the masses. Stop by Amsterdam chocolate shop Puccini (in the Western Canal Belt) to buy sinful bon bons if you want your gift to look extra-special. But even the inexpensive chocolate bars, candies and cocoa mix on grocery-store shelves (good brands include Droste and Verkade make most American chocolate taste like mud.