Netherlands // Noord-Holland //

Alkmaar’s cheese market

Cheese has been sold on Alkmaar’s main square since the 1300s, and although it’s no longer a serious commercial concern, the kaasmarkt (cheese market; Fri 10am–12.30pm, from the first Friday in April to the first Friday in Sept) continues to pull the crowds – so get there early if you want a good view. 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 groups of four porters (kaasdragers) 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. Payment for the cheeses, tradition has it, takes place in the cafés around the square.