Dutch cheese markets

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There are five cheese markets operating in the Netherlands. Woerden is a modern working commercial cheese market. Four, Alkmaar, Gouda, Edam and Hoorn, are like traditional merchant cheese markets as operated in the post-medieval period, re-enacted during the summer months for tourists. The shows are today surrounded by stalls selling all things traditional to the Dutch culture, including cheese.

Dutch cheese farmers traditionally brought their cheeses to the market square in town to sell. Teams (vemen) of official guild cheese-porters (kaasdragers), identified by differently coloured straw hats associated with their forwarding company, carried the farmers' cheese on barrows, which typically weighed about 160 kilograms. Buyers then sampled the cheeses and negotiated a price using a ritual system called handjeklap in which buyers and sellers clap each other's hands and shout prices.[1] Once a price is agreed, the porters carry the cheese to the weighing house (Waag), and scale of their company.[2]

Wheels of Gouda cheese on sale at Gouda's cheese market


This large 400-year-old cheese market located on the Waagplein ("weighing square") now opens every Friday morning between 10 am and 13:00 pm from the first Friday in April until the last Friday in September. Evening cheesemarkets will take place on: May 2nd, May 23rd, June 6th, July 4th, July 18th, August 1st, August 15th and August 29th 2017 from 19.00 until 21.00 hrs. From opening ceremonies to final load, market activities are explained in Dutch, German, English, and Spanish or French (sometimes even Japanese).[3][4]

The Alkmaar Cheese Guild[edit]

On June 17, 1593 the cheese guild, also known as the Kaasdragersgilde, was established.[5] The guild is composed of 30 men, never women, and the Cheese Father who leads them. When they are not weighing the cheese, the guild meets within the aforementioned weighing house. The guild is divided into four different groups, called forwarding companies. The forwarding companies are distinguished apart from each other by the color of their straw hats; red, blue, green, or yellow. Each of the forwarding companies is composed of six carriers and one tasman.[6] The carriers can fulfil any number of different tasks within the market, but the tasman’s job is to place the weights onto the cheese scales. The tasks which the carriers fulfil are the zetter, ingooier, temporary worker, voorman, or bootelier. The zetter are the first of the guildsmen to show up at the market. They take the cheese from storage to the market in the morning and wear black pants with a blue shirt. The ingooier is essentially the opposite of the zetter. He takes the cheese from the market to storage at the end of the day and wears black pants with a light fawn shirt. Temporary workers are not members of the guild and must train for at least two years before they can join the guild. The voorman is the head of the forwarding company; each company has one. He is often the oldest member of the company, but every two years he is elected by his company. He wears a silver sign with a ribbon and bow tie of his company’s color. The bootelier is simply in charge of getting drinks for his company after the market is over. Finally, the Cheese Father. The Cheese Father is the head of the entire guild. All of the members of the forwarding companies refer to the Cheese Father as “dad.” The Cheese Father is distinct from the men of the forwarding companies because he is the only one in a full, white suit. He also wears an orange hat and carries a matching orange cane.


The men of the cheese guilds are required to behave and dress a very specific way, and if they fail to, there are repercussions. The “provost marshal” is in charge of collected fees from any man who shows up late or any man whose uniform is not “white as snow.” The money collected from such fines is used to sponsor a local school.[7]The carriers are expected to be at the weighing house at seven the morning of the market to set it up and have it ready to open by 10. Every Friday, right before the market opens, the Cheese Father gives a speech to the forwarding companies. In his speech he takes role to ensure that all the companies are there, he tells them if any important guest will be present, and finally the amount of cheese at the market that day in metric tons. Right at 10, the town bell is rung to signify the opening of the Cheese Market.[7] Special guests are invited each week to ring the bell; it is considered a great honor. The market has opened the exact same way every Friday since 1593. The only time that the Cheese Market did not take place was during World War II when it was temporarily put on hold out of safety concerns. Directly following the war, the market opened once more. Cheese was very scarce during the war, so people were thrilled to see the markets open again.[7]

Once the market opens, Samplers in white lab coats use a special scoop to inspect the inside of the Cheese wheels. The sampler inspects the feel, smell, and taste of the cheese. He also does a visual analysis of the cheese to make sure it has holes, also known as “eyes,” evenly spread throughout the wheel. Once a batch is sold, it must be carried to the scales to be weighed. The cheese is transported on a wooden barrow that is carried between two men. The barrows can have up to 130 kilos (287 pounds) of cheese on them at a time. In order to carry the barrows as still as possible for the safety of the cheese, the carriers walk in a synchronized rhythm known as the “cheese carriers’ dripple.”[7] Once the cheese reaches the scales, the tasman weighs it in front of the weighing master, or “waagmeester.” The weighing master is a public servant who is not a member of the cheese guild to ensure that the buyer is receiving the amount of cheese that they bought. The guildsmen follow the motto “Een valse Waghe is de Heere een gruwel” which translates from Dutch to “a false balance is an abhorrence in the eyes of the Lord.”[7] The market ends promptly at one in the afternoon and all the unsold cheese is carried back to the hauler’s lorry for storage.


At the Edam cheese market, which unsurprisingly features Edam cheese, horse-drawn carriages and boats bring farmers' cheeses to the Jan van Nieuwenhuizen Square to be presented at the current weigh house, built in 1778. This traditional-style cheese market opens in July and August on Wednesday mornings from 10:30 am until 12:30 pm.[8]


Gouda cheese has been traded on the Goudse kaasmarkt for more than three centuries. Nowadays it is open from mid-June until August, every Thursday morning between 10 am and 12:30 pm, Farmers from the region gather to have their cheese weighed, tasted and priced. The Gouda cheese market is surrounded by many exhibitions of authentic Dutch professions, from cheese production to clog making and buttermilk preparation.[9]


Opened in 2007 on the Roode Steen square, this reproduction cheese market takes place between 28 June and 20 September on Thursdays between 12:30 and 13:45 and 21:00 and 22:15. There are live commentaries on the whole process of carrying in the cheese, weighing, and negotiating in both Dutch and English.[10]


This commercial cheese market features farmers' cheeses with little of the spectacle or pageantry of the other markets.[11] For more than 100 years, every Wednesday morning starting around 9:00 am, there is an active trade between the cheese farmers and the marktmeester (market foreman), where prices are determined for the different types of cheeses. The cheeses for sale are boerenkazen (farmers' cheeses)[2] which are considered by cheese aficionados to be more authentic and have a much better taste than factory-made cheese.

Annual Historic Cheese Market Woerden[edit]

Every August, on the last Wednesday of the school summer holidays (for the central Netherlands), a historic cheese market is held. The cheese farmers, as well as their wives, dress up in period costumes and re-enact a traditional cheese market. In 2011, the historical cheese market was held on 13 August.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alkmaar cheese market - Cheese Bargaining. kaasmarkt.nl; VVV, NL.
  2. ^ a b Edam cheese market . Holland.com.
  3. ^ Alkmaar Cheese Market schedule. kaasmarkt.nl; VVV, NL.
  4. ^ The Alkmaar Cheese Market, a tradition since 1593. alkmaar.nl; Municipality of Alkmaar.
  5. ^ "History of the Alkmaar Cheese Market". Alkmaar Marketing. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  6. ^ "Cheese carriers'guild | Cheese Market Alkmaar". www.kaasmarkt.nl. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  7. ^ a b c d e "Ins and outs of the cheesemarket | Cheese Market Alkmaar". www.kaasmarkt.nl. Retrieved 2018-12-05.
  8. ^ Edam Cheese Market event information. Stichting Kaasmarkt Edam, 2010.
  9. ^ Gouda Cheese Market event information. Stichting Goudse Kaas foundation, 2010.
  10. ^ Hoorn Cheese Market official site (Flash)
  11. ^ Woerden Cheese Market (in Dutch)
  12. ^ Historical Cheese Market Woerden (in Dutch)