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Holland - Alkmaar Cheese Market


 

It is known that the city of Alkmaar had a weighing house for cheese as early as 1365 and the oldest "ordinance on the cheese-bearers" dates from June 17th 1593. The cheese market takes place every Friday from mid-April to mid-September (22 Fridays) at the Waagplein, the city’s main square. It is good to know that:

· In the 17th century, cheese was traded on both Fridays and Saturdays from May to All Saints’ Day.
· In the 18th century, there was a cheese market four times a week
· At the beginning of the 20th Century the volume of cheese was about 10 times what it is sold today.
· The Waagplein was enlarged for the last time in 1901. Before then, buildings covered almost the whole square. The enlargement of the square kept pace with the volume of the cheese trade.
· Until the First World War, the cheese market was a vital centre for the trade. In 1916, an average of three hundred tons of cheese was sold on every market day. At that time, the market went on until one o'clock at night.
· Since 1939, Alkmaar has been the only place in the Netherlands to maintain the cheese market tradition in this form.
· About 100,000 people from all over the world visit the cheese market in Alkmaar every year.

 

The Alkmaar cheese carriers’ guild are responsible for moving and weighing cheese during the cheese market on Fridays. The guild consists of four groups (vemen) of seven men each. Each veem has its own colour: red, yellow, green or blue. The head of the four vemen is the 'cheese father', the supervisor. As a sign of his office, the cheese father carries a black stick with a silver knob. The cheese carriers wear the traditional costume: a white suit and a straw hat with a ribbon in the colour of their own veem. An experienced carrier is known as a vastman (a regular). Before then, he is known as a noodhulp (temporary assistant). The oldest cheese carrier in a veem is called the tasman (bagman). He can be recognised by the black leather bag he wears. The tasman puts the weights on the balance when the cheese is weighed.

On Fridays, the square is prepared before the cheese carriers’ guild goes into action. The market inspector supervises the removal of the cheese from the trucks as they are positioned on the square in long rows by the zetters. When the bell is rung at ten o'clock, the zetters load the barrows and the cheese carriers carry them to the balance to weigh the cheese. Sworn weighing masters supervise the weighing and complete the weight slips. Meanwhile, on the square, traders and inspectors determine the quality of the cheese on offer. Haggling about the price takes place using the handjeklap system, literally clapping hands with other merchants.


   















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