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 also 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:
"These days the manufacture of both cheeses is on such a vast scale that
their individual merits have become completely blurred and they are now virtually
interchangeable. The cheeses for export share identical, uncomplicated recipes, save the
fact that Edam is made from partially skimmed milk whereas Gouda is always made from whole
milk. Their minimal aging periods of about two months under identical conditions further
serve to negate any detectable differences between them."
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 below.)
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. Tour groups arrive
early, so try to be there between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m.--especially if you're intent on
photographing 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 journey
planner in English.
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.
ABOVE: A cheese buyer and seller exchange a High Five.
General tourist information
The official Alkmaar tourism site has up-to-date visitor information, events
listings, and more in Dutch and English. Also see
The Alkmaar Cheese Market
For information on other towns and sights "between Northsea and IJsselmeer,"
visit Peninsula Holland.
Museums and attractions
Dutch Cheese Museum
The Alkmaar Weighhouse dates back to the 14th Century. Today it houses a museum of antique
dairy equipment, along with displays that show traditional and modern cheesemaking
The town's historical museum is located in a 17th Century militia armory. Paintings make
up the bulk of the collection, but the attic rooms show how Dutch children lived, learned,
and played in 1900. (The Stedelijkmuseum is daily except Mondays, Christmas,
New Year's Day, and the King's Day in late April.)
National Beer Museum "de Boom"
A former brewery houses this museum, where you can see exhibits about the
history of beer and have a glass in the Proeflokaal
"De Boom". The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 - 4 pm;
during the Cheese Market season, it opens early, at 10 a.m.
If you prefer church music to cheese, forget the Kaasmarkt: Alkmaar's renowned Hagerbeer/Schnitger organ in the
Laurenskerk is the city's premier attraction, at least for visitors who enjoy world-class
keyboard music. For more information on the church, visit the Dutch-language
Grote Sint Laurenskerk Web
site. Organ concerts usually take place on Fridays during the Cheese Market
Alkmaar Canal Cruises
Forty-minute boat tours depart from the Mient, near the Cheese Market, from
April through October. The schedule depends on the season and weather, with
hourly or half-hourly departures from 11 a.m. daily (May - September) or Monday
through Saturday (April and October).
Jos Steeman Alkmaar
After you've bought a pallet's worth of cheese or other goods, turn to this
packing, shipping, and air-cargo company for help in getting your purchase
World Sex Guide:
And you thought there wasn't anything to buy in Alkmaar except cheese and candy.
If you're headed for Amsterdam, also see:
Amsterdam Web Guide
Our 29-page Web guide has links to Amsterdam
hotels, apartments, restaurants, museums, coffeehouses, entertainment listings, local
transportation information, and more.
Top inset photo: VVV
Alkmaar. 2nd inset photo: Monique Stap for VVV Alkmaar.