Apr 302016

images-2Alkmaar, Dutch Cheese Market 1365-2016  :
Trish and I started off early for the medieval Dutch town of Alkmaar in April 2016.images-16


The Market Where Tourist Can’t Buy Cheese

The earliest mention of this city is in a 10th-century document. It was granted city rights in 1254. It has some of the oldest polders (which is reclaimed land and the Netherlands has over 3,000 of them.).



This is a trading and business market, but local shops will let tourists and the natives buy cheese. In 1365, the city owned one pair of cheese scales only, but this increased to four in 1612.  The first year of the cheese market is 1593 and sometime after that date, archieves note the The kaasdragersgilde (cheese carrier’s guild was in business. It was customary to trade cheese on Fridays and Saturdays.

Are you a Cheese Connoisseur ?

We learned many valuable information about cheeses. Inspecting cheese is more than just looking at its exterior. Cheese is knocked by hand on and a special cheese scoop used to obtain a piece, which is then crumbled between the fingers and smelled. The cheese is then tasted and noted for the percentages of fat and moisture. Cheese has eyes! These are the holes caused by non-harmful lactric acid bacteria. Eyes occur during the maturation process.

The Perfect Cheese


A perfect cheese has eyes that are evenly spread throughout. A cheese without eyes, known as a blind cheese, is considered to be of inferior quality.

Cheese Carriers Must be on Time

We were told that punctuality is important for cheese carriers; late persons are fined and the proceeds goes to supporting a school in Suriname (ex. Dutch Colony). Suriname borders on Brazil.).

Ring Those Bells


Bells must ring before the market is officially opened and this is done by artists, famous athletes and foreign ambassadors. We checked our watches and precisely at 10 a.m the bells pealed.

images-27“False Scales are An Abomination!”

In 1365, the city owned one pair of cheese scales only, but this increased to four in 1612.   There are many roles for the conduct of business.

The Tasman (Purse Man) weighs the cheese and the waagmeester (weighing master) checks it. The motto of the Alkmaar Cheese Carrier Guild being “Een valse Waghe is de Heere een gruwel” (a false balance is an abhorrence in the eyes of the Lord).

The “tasman” is positioned at the scales and can be recognised by the purse around his waist

Getting the Cheese to Market

Once cheese is weighed and sold, cheese carriers carry it by a ‘dribble’ to the consignment to buyers’ trucks.   The carriers represent four companies and each company has its own colour: red, green, blue and yellow straw hats, bow ties and carrying dribbles. They share one method of carrying and do this in an artistic rhythm which makes the job easier.

The Old Cheese Guild Still in Operation

images-12 images-6 images-7 \

In the Middle Ages most craftsmen belonged to a particular guild: ,bakers, cobblers, stone masons, carpenters, etc. They could be seen as a forerunner of unions that protected members and also acted as a fraternity.

Cheese Maids

images-7 images-16

These females promote the cheese industry at home and overseas. They also promote tourism by posing in their national costumes.

Types of Dutch Cheese

The Netherland’s story of cheese making extends back to the time of Julius Caesar. There are statistics that state that the number of dairy animals may rival the number of tulip bulbs in the fields.






Most people have at least heard of Edam and Gouda cheeses and probably have tasted them. These two hard, mild cheeses are named for the towns in which they were originally made and from which they were sold.  Cheeses tend to be categorized as follows:

  • Smoked Cheese – This cheese is made, melted, smoked, and then remolded into a sausage shape. Often sold by the slice.  It is a favourite.
  • Maasdammer – this nutty cheese has large holes and a domed shape  There are two famous brands Madam and Leerdamner;  I prefer the latter.
  • Boerenkaas – This raw milk cheese is, by law, an artisanal cheese; this means that 50% of the milk needs to come from the original farm and the other 50% cannot come from more than two additional farms.
  • Goat’s Cheese – It comes in two types:  a semi-hard Gouda-like cheese that is cured and a soft goat’s cheese which is soft and spreadable.
  • Frisian Clove Cheese –This is a cheese ideal for people watching calories.  It is a low-fat milk that contains  cumin and cloves.  A good cheese after a beer as it is hard, dry and has a tart taste.
  • Paula’s Final Comment:   The Netherlands is a fascinating country and well worth a visit.

 Leave a Reply