The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Willem-Jan Elsen

Willem-Jan Elsen

Cheese specialist, Elsen Kaasambacht (1986)

Can you describe what you do?

I work in a specialist cheese-shop with my family: I have the pleasure of calling my father, step-mother, brother and girlfriend my colleagues. The shop is located on Mechelsestraat, right in the geographical mid-point of Leuven. We try to have the best selection of cheeses on offer, buying them young from the Rungis International Market in Paris. We have our own aging cellars under the shop with specific temperature and humidity conditions. Overall, we have a great team of fifteen passionate cheese-lovers who work in the shop and help our customers select the perfect cheese for the right occasion. I love good food, so I’m also always on the lookout for all the fine dining hotspots, run precisely by cooks who love their products too.

How do you perceive Leuven?

Leuven isn’t the biggest city around – but thanks to the University, the UZ Leuven hospital, AB InBev brewing conglomerate and other international companies, there’s a great diversity of people and things to do to be found here; whether it’s food, shopping, sports, art, music or nightlife. Leuven has got a lot of students that stay behind even after they’ve graduated, because there’s just so many opportunities here, and it’s easy to make it your home away from home. Besides this, we’re very accessible by any mode of transportation, with a very central location within Belgium.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

The variety of shops and it’s constant program of events. Its historical city centre means there’s plenty of little streets where you can wander around and even get lost. There are also many nice restaurants with an excellent food quality and dining standards. Furthermore, there are plenty of small parks, open to all.

There’s just so many opportunities here, and it’s easy to make it your home away from home.

How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

In a city like Leuven, you get to know a lot of very different and interesting people – most likely thanks to the city’s international identity, a clear attribute of the University.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

I would love to see even more small-scale, specialty shops and restaurants take root in our city, like in larger urban centres. Another typical sight here is that it can get very quiet during the exam period or holiday season – though, of course, there are always those who would argue this is a positive thing!

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

If you only have one night to spend in Leuven, make do like everyone else and join the folks on Oude Markt after a filling dinner in the city centre. Make note though, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket and spend the whole night in one bar, but make sure to move around and discover what makes all the bars unique.