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 between 10 a.m and 3 p.m.,
from late March until early September. In recent years, there's also been an
evening cheese market on Tuesdays.
Tour groups arrive early, so try to be at the market 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
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
Alkmaar Cheese Market
Learn about the cheeses, the market, and the town (including dates and times for
the Cheese Market itself).
The official Alkmaar tourism site has up-to-date visitor information, events
listings, and more in Dutch and English.
For information on other towns and sights between the North Sea
and IJsselmeer, visit the VVV Heart of
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.
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."
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
Grote Kerk Alkmaar Web
site and see the agenda
pages for news of free "Kaasmarkt orgelconcert" performances.
Alkmaar Canal Cruises
Boat tours of 45 minutes depart from the Mient, near the Cheese Market, from
April through October. (You'll need to duck down to clear the 22 bridges along
the route.) The exact schedule depends on the season and weather.
at Huigbrouwerstraat 3 has been family-owned since 1835. and the current
proprietor--a lady named Bernadette--has run the store since 1982. She and her
staff offer clogs, brushes, and other traditional Dutch items here and at a
stall in the Cheese Market where you can take a photo in a
giant pair of
wooden shoes. (Boom also ships to addresses worldwide.)
Jos Steeman Alkmaar
After you've bought a pallet's worth of cheese, turn to this
packing, shipping, and air-cargo company for help in getting your purchase
And you thought there wasn't anything to buy in Alkmaar except cheese and
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.