Alkmaar Cheese Market, Netherlands

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Travel Features >> Alkmaar Cheese Market, Netherlands

Alkmaar Cheese Market, Netherlands

April 01, 2011

Say cheese. Talk cheese, breathe cheese, dream cheese- and eat cheese, of course. And if you're as mad about cheese as all that, then travel cheese too. To the Alkmaar Cheese Market in the Netherlands, the world's largest cheese market. Just about 38 km from Amsterdam, the town of Alkmaar is a small, fairly non-descript town which wakes up with a bang every summer Friday to celebrate cheese in a big way.

With Netherland's penchant for 'milk's leap to immortality', it's hardly surprising that they'd have specialised markets where only cheese is sold. And this one is it- a cheese market which has been around for the past 600 years. All through the summer, Fridays see Alkmaar's main square come alive with a cheese market where the local produce is bought and sold. The Cheese Market is flagged off at 6:45 in the morning by a `Cheese Father'- a master of ceremonies, so to say- and over the next three hours, the cheeses are brought into the square to be arranged. By 10, the square gets full to the brim with rows of wooden trestles and racks, crowded with innumerable golden wheels of Dutch cheese. At the stroke of 10, a bell is rung and the action starts- the trading of the cheeses.

Till noon, cheeses are sniffed, tasted, admired and haggled over. A sale is concluded by a 'high-five' between the buyer and the seller. Cheese porters dressed in ceremonial white uniforms with jaunty beribboned straw hats on their head wheel the cheeses to the Waag, the medieval weighhouse next to the square, where the weighing happens. Cheeses, once weighed, are packed into waiting lorries to be taken away, to land up in shops and restaurants, pubs and hotels across the country. This isn't the place you'll get to buy much cheese- but samples are passed around for tasting, and the entire atmosphere is too cheesy to miss. If you're really keen on buying some cheese, there are plenty of shops around town where you can indulge.

The Alkmaar Cheese Market is held every Friday between April and September, in the main square of the town. The action starts at 6.45 in the morning, but most people start arriving only by 10, and things begin to wind up by 12 noon.

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