Thursday, October 22, 2009

Alkmaar Cheese Market

We headed to Alkmaar after our night in Volendam. Alkmaar has a cluster of impressive medieval buildings, but is best known for its much-touted kaasmarkt, or cheese market (mid-April to mid-Sept 10am-noon), an ancient affair that these days ranks as one of the most extravagant tourist spectacles in Holland. Cheese has been sold on the main square here since the 1300s, and although it's no longer a serious commercial concern, the market remains popular and continues to draw the crowds.
The ceremony starts with the buyers sniffing, crumbling, and finally tasting each cheese, followed by intensive bartering. Once a deal has been concluded, the cheeses - golden discs of Gouda mainly, laid out in rows and piles on the square - are borne away on ornamental carriers by four groups of porters for weighing.
The porters wear white trousers and shirt plus a black hat whose coloured bands - green, blue, red or yellow - represent the four companies that comprise the cheese porters' guild. (Rough Guide, Netherlands)
It was all quite a spectacle. I gotta say that while this market has more action and tradition than the one in Gouda, it also has A LOT more spectators. We were at least 10 deep making photos pretty impossible. We saw the porters do their thing and then we wove out of the hoards and over to where the cheese made its final stop - being loaded onto the trucks.
Maybe I should say it was WHEELED (ha!) onto the trucks!
Connor, having fully recovered from her overnight illness, found the whole cheese ordeal quite entertaining.
We bought cheese "to say we had" and took in the town. Alkmaar is bustling and a worthwhile sight on its own. Like many towns in Holland, it is laced with canals.
And there was a huge music box where we of course had to stop and dance! Connor loves these.
The old timey charm is captivating and foot stompin' - I have to agree. There was also some type of carnival happening along the river banks. We stopped and just had to ride the merry go round. Connor is hilarious the way she will wave and scream out "HELLO" to onlookers every time the ride comes around. Alkmaar was a fun end to our girls trip. Although I would say if it is a cheese market you are after - you are better off heading for Gouda to avoid all the tourists.
Click here for full album photos from Volendam, Marken Island and the Alkmaar Cheese Market.

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