The cheese market in Alkmaar has been an institution since 1593. The market happens on Fridays from mid-April to mid-September and during a market day an average of 30,000 kilograms of Gouda and Edam cheese are sold. Holy smokes that's a lot of cheese! All those big golden wheels of cheese were quite a sight when they were all lined up in the square.
The market starts at 10am and opens with a bell-ringing. The cheese is inspected for taste, smell, moisture, fat content and appearance, then the bidding starts. After a deal has been made, the cheese is carried to the scale by members of the cheese carriers guild and weighed. After it has been weighed the guild carries 8 wheels of cheese at a time on a cart to the buyer's waiting truck. Each wheel of cheese weighs about 13.5 kg, so when the cart is loaded it weighs about 130 kg, that's a lot!
The cheese-carrier's guild has always played an important role. They continue to wear the traditional costume, with coloured straw hats (which shows what team they're on) with a white suit. They zipped around the square, carting the cheese, stacking new piles - it was a lot of fun to watch.
Going to the cheese market was a lot of fun, and it was one of the things I wanted to do during my time in the Netherlands, so I was really glad I got to see it with my family. Alkmaar is really pretty, and would be worth another visit - both for the town, and the cheese.
Here's a link to an Alkmaar City Guide with more info and history.