Markets can be a real tourist attraction. Some famous ones are for example Borough market in London, La Boqueria in Barcelona, Pike Place market in Seattle and also the Rotterdam Markthal. And the Friday cheese market in Alkmaar / Netherlands is famous as well. 300,000 tourist per year come to see how cheese trade worked in the old days. It can be a bit crowded.
Officially the market starts at 10am, we came a bit later, had to make our way through but it was still bearable, not too many heads in the way to do photos. And not so many selfies being done by the crowd, the market scenery itself was apparently more interesting – this time.
The Waagplein square in front of the beautiful weigh house is being fenced for this occasion, so that the cheese trading can be conducted the old way along a clear procedure. Big round loaves of cheeses weighing roughly 13kg each had been stacked in an orderly manner on the square.
Men in white uniforms and hats with different colors belonging to the 400+ years old guild of cheese carriers, move in couples up to eight of those cheeses on a wooden barrow. They carry the load from the square, where the cheeses are orderly piled to the weigh house and back so that they can be transported further to the buyers. To carry the heavy load without cheeses falling off, they perform a walk which is kind of a hybrid between running and dancing. This is one of the highlights of the whole market show which was explained by a friendly lady to the audience in several languages.
Truth be told
Indeed it is a show and not everybody knows it, which creates its own little confusion. Even me, I wanted to believe that there is still some cheese retailers which buy the cheese on the spot. I was told wrong by a gentleman in the weigh house. He was producing the certificates for tourists being weighed for a Euro on a historical cheese scale. In his regular job he is a bus driver. He just finished his morning shift, and would continue driving after the market closure at 1pm. For the performance he is paid by the city and he enjoys it a lot. The city still keeps up this tradition as a folkloristic event, something he appreciates. “We need to remember how things have been” was his statement, sounding like: we are in the digital age, but there is another life as well.
The cheese itself is being brought from nearby factories by lorries to the site and being brought back afterwards.
What to think of it
Of course the whole thing is a show, a free one. Everything is fun to watch. It is not about the food itself, it is more about trade, traditions and the role of guilds centuries ago, in short. a living museum. And for me, somebody who is not a hygiene freak, I like to see that these cheeses which laid on the ground on mattresses are being sold in retail with this touch of “old days style”.
All in all: Let the show begin and enjoy a folkloristic view on cheese trade as it happened in Alkmaar long time ago
A little link list: