Alkmaar Cheese Market in Holland
Back in the day, the Alkmaar Cheese Market was a vital trading centre, and even though cheese is still sold here and traditions upheld, it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Holland. And the tourists are not there just to buy high quality cheese to take home, but to enjoy the unique atmosphere and culture that has made the Alkmaar Cheese Market famous across the world. With more than a hundred thousand tourists visiting the market during its trading months of April to September, it has secured its place as one of the attractions that are significant to the tourist industry of Alkmaar.
On every Friday, during the trading months, the Alkmaar Cheese Market on Waagplein square starts bustling with activity by ten o’clock in the morning. The town of Alkmaar is approximately half an hours’ journey from the Amsterdam Central Station, and just over thirty seven kilometers from the city of Amsterdam. A cheese weighing house has existed in Alkmaar from as far back as 1365, but the cheese bearers’ ordinance was only documented on 17 June 1593. The market was a thriving trade post up and till the First World War and it was noted that in 1916, three hundred tons of cheese was the average amount sold on each market day. Even though cheese markets were a normal occurrence across the Netherlands, Alkmaar remained the only traditional market from 1939 onwards.
Alkmaar has a Cheese Carrier’s Guild and visitors will see four groups of seven men each working at the market. They belong to the guild and are responsible for the transportation and the weighing of the cheese on the market day. The groups are known as Vemen and each group has their own color and traditional dress code, which identifies them. The head of the Vemen is known as the Cheese Father, who is easily spotted carrying a black cane, supervising the men as they work. There are cheese carriers, temporary assistants and tasman that weigh the cheese. As each person knows what is required from them, the guild members weigh, transport and check the quality of the cheese, before bargaining the best price for the cheese can start.
Cheese making has been significantly commercialized, from the 1960’s, with factories producing large quantities of cheese, made to specific recipes, for export to other countries. Even though the lines have been blurred between different varieties of cheese due to mass production, visitors will still be able to purchase some of the finest cheese in the world and haggle for their pound of cheese, in the old traditional way.