Friday, June 27, 2008
Holland is the world's largest exporter of cheese. After you see the amount of cheese consumed in this country, it's hard to believe that they would have anything left to export but apparently they do -- and a lot of it. For hundreds of years, cheese was made on individual farms and then brought to market to be inspected, evaluated, weighed and sold. While things aren't done quite that way anymore, Alkmaar, the oldest cheese market in the world, still holds a cheese market every Friday so that you can see how it was all done. Pictured to the right is the weighing house of the cheese market.
Large wheels of cheese are laid out on the square carried by special "Cheese Carriers". These carriers are part of the Cheese Carrier Guild and the color of the scarf in their hat signifies which veem (like a team) in the guild they belong to. Here the cheeses are offered for sale. Once they find a buyer and a price is agreed upon, the cheese is taken to the scales. The cheese is then once again carried by the Cheese Carriers to the trucks (wagons in the past) to be taken away. It's all very ritualistic, colorful and full of local culture.
In it's heyday, the Alkmaar Cheese Market sold an average of 300 tons of cheese every market day. Now most cheese is sold commercially and the amount sold at the market is substantially less. Since 1939, Alkmaar has the only remaining cheese market in The Netherlands.
After the morning market, we spent time in the Cheese Museum (yes, there really is a museum just for cheese), browsing the artisan market, and dining in a very picturesque restaurant.