Alkmaar Cheese Market
ABOVE: Costumes are de rigueur at the weekly Alkmaar Cheese Market. INSET BELOW: A cheese expert takes a core sample, and cheeses await weighing at the Waag (which houses the Alkmaar Tourist Office and the Dutch Cheese Museum)
What do you call a group of dairy longshoremen who put on white uniforms, don straw hats with colored ribbons, and carry wheels of cheese to and from a 14th Century weighhouse on wooden barrows suspended from their shoulders?
In Alkmaar, they're referred to as "cheese porters" (or the Dutch equivalent), and members of their various guilds have been helping to bring cheese buyers and sellers together for at least 600 years.
Today's Alkmaar Cheese Market is more show than substance, if only because Dutch cheesemaking has been a mass-market industrial operation since the 1960s. In The Cheese Primer, Steven Jenkins says of Edam and Gouda cheese:
So much for tradition. Still, the Alkmaar Cheese Market remains a popular tourist spectacle, even if the real wheeling and dealing takes place among the big cheeses at the corporate level. And there's plenty to do in Alkmaar after you've watched the cheese porters do their Friday-morning ballet at the Waag, or weighhouse. (For descriptions of museums, the great 18th Century organ in the Laurenskerk, and other Aalkmar attractions, see the Web links on the next page.)
Cheese Market: Where and when
The Alkmaar Cheese Market takes place in Alkmaar's main square every Friday at 10 a.m., from early April to early September. The tour groups arrive early, so try to be there between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m.--especially if you're intent on photographing or videotaping the action.
How to Reach Alkmaar
Alkmaar is just over half an hour from Amsterdam Central Station by intercity train. For more information, see the Netherland Railways domestic journey planner, which gives slower "Stoptrein" connections as well as Intercity trains.
By car, Alkmaar is 37.6 km or 23.5 miles from Amsterdam. For road directions, pick up a good map and go over it with your hotel concierge.
Another option is a group sightseeing tour, which you can book through a travel agency or your hotel.
Next page: Alkmaar attractions and Web links
Top inset photo: VVV
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