Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Netherlands - Alkmaar Cheese Market

Typically, cheese markets are open during the weekdays. I would skip a class just to visit the market once in my life time, but skipping work is such a bad idea. But finally, I had a chance to visit the market on a Good Friday. Catholic influence is apparently not very strong in the Netherlands, and from what I heard, it is only strong in the southern parts of Netherlands, closer to Spain. Not everyone has a holiday, but I was very glad I didn't have to go to work on Good Friday.

For information about other cheese markets in the Netherlands, visit this website.

The cheese market in Alkmaar is especially famous among the tourists because it is very close to Amsterdam, as compared to Gouda. Take a train from Amsterdam to Alkmaar station, and then just keep following the road sign that says "Cheese Market". Or just follow the crowd. If they arrive around 10, they are most likely visitors of the cheese market. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the cheese market from Alkmaar station.

I highly recommend coming at 10 AM to the cheese market. They will slowly remove the cheeses from the ground into the weighing station, so if you come around 11-11:30, the market will not be as exciting as it is at 10, when it just opened.

This is what you will see after 11: an almost empty floor:

So, go early, or don't go. Unless you don't mind seeing only less than 1/10 of the 26 tonnes of Gouda cheese wheels you see in the morning.

The market was very crowded, but if you are patient enough, you can move from the very back of the crowd to the very front of it. Some people will leave the crowd every now and then, so just be smart and try to replace the empty spot slowly and swiftly.

The emcee was very proficient in languages; she will first start explaining about the market in Dutch, and then in English, German and Spanish. If you miss a language you'd like to hear, just wait for 30 minutes. The explanations are going to be repeated until the closing of the market.

The cheese wheels are carried in fours, with each wheel weighing roughly about 12 kgs.

The cheese carriers are shaped in a very interesting way. The curved design makes them easy to pick up from the ground. Also, there is a special way to walk while carrying the cheese in order to prevent the cheeses from bouncing and falling off as the men walk briskly.

Every now and then, ladies dressed up in Dutch traditional costume will promote and sell cheeses and information booklet about the cheese market (costs 2 Euros). I didn't buy it because I don't have a permanent place to stay right now.

Aside from the ladies, these men will also make rounds around the market. What they do is taking out cheese samples using a butter scoop (yes, it's called the butter scoop even though it's actually to dig out a tiny, long cylinder of cheese out of the cheese wheel.

Butter scoop - you can see them at the Cheese museum on the second floor of the weighing station, which is just next to the cheese market

The butter scoop works like a drill. Push it in, turn it one full round, and then take it out. After he took the cheese out, he will distribute it to the visitors of the market. I was able to taste a piece of it:

A very tiny piece, but enough to taste. This is what they do for cheese inspection: they taste, smell and feel the texture.

The inspected cheese wheels are slowly transported from the ground to the weighing station (or the Waagplein in Dutch), where they still use traditional weighing scale.

You can also weigh yourself there for 2 Euros, just for fun :)

And then the wheels are carried out to distributors using boats, wooden carts or trucks.

There are stalls selling different brands and kinds of cheese around the market. A regular piece costs around 4-5 euros.

Cheeses that look white are the goat cheese

The round, ball-looking cheese is Edam cheese, and the rest is Gouda cheese

Aside from cheese, you can also find the traditional wooden clogs. You can also see how they're made from scratch, if you are lucky.

But I must say that the strangest thing that struck my attention was the blue pesto cheese. Not bleu cheese. Blue as in the colour blue.

The lady who sold this said that it's blue because of lavender. She let me tried it, and I must say that I prefer a normal pesto cheese than this one. But it's still very interesting nevertheless!


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