THE Dutch take the gastronomic side of their culture seriously and, in The Netherlands, eating well is rightly perceived as an important part of the quality of life. Thanks to the country's excellent pasture, Holland is known for its dairy produce in general and for some of the world's most popular cheeses in particular, including the international favourites gouda and edam. Gouda comes from southern Holland, but is named after a small port near Rotterdam from which most of it was originally exported. A yellow cheese with a black or yellow rind, it is similar to edam, which is sold in a ball protected by a red or yellow wax coating. Herring from the North Sea is a staple Dutch dish, and many other varieties of smoked fish are included in the lavish cold buffets in which the country specialises. Smoked meats are also a national favourite, eaten with an abundant variety of different kind of bread and washed down with Dutch beer. Among the most characteristic national cooked dishes are split-pea soup, jugged hare, various stews, and knuckle of veal, often served with sauerkraut. Cheese is extensively used in Dutch cooking, and the country is known for its excellent creamy sauces. Like most of northern Europe, The Netherlands has a sweet tooth, the demands of which are met by an imaginative range of patisserie and confectionery. Butter cake and coffee caramels are national favourites. The Dutch colonial tradition, and in particular the Dutch involvement in Indonesia, have each had a decisive influence on national tastes. Rijsstafel - rice offered with a choice of spiced meats and fish with vegetables and sauces - is a meal developed jointly by the Dutch and the Japanese, and is as popular today in Amsterdam as it is in Jakarta. The colonial influence is also apparent in the Dutch love of good coffee, also imported from Indonesia. Coffee tends to be served strong, in small cups and accompanied by chocolates rather than biscuits. After dinner, a Dutch liqueur such as curacao oradvocaat may also be served. Dutch terrain, while highly suitable for growing tulips, is less well adapted to grapes and there is no noticeable tradition of Dutch viticulture, although the country is a significant market for French and German wines. Beer is the most popular accompaniment to food. The Netherlands produces two of the world's most popular beers - Heineken and Grolsch. Heineken is by far the biggest of the Dutch breweries and also owns the popular Amstel label. In terms of domestic sales, Grolsch comes a fairly distant second to Heineken, but has achieved a solid international customer base, due partly to its distinctive packaging with the ceramic stopper swing-top bottle - now a much emulated gimmick. Although the majority of Dutch beer exports take the form of pilsener lagers, the country also produces a variety of other styles for the domestic market.