Alkmaar Cheese Market
Cheese Market in the city of Alkmaar had a weighing house for cheese as early as 1365. The oldest "ordinance on the cheesebearers" dates from june 17th. 1593.
The cheese market was a vital centre for the trade for more than 300 years. In 1916, an average of three hundred tons of cheese were sold on every market day. At that time, the market went on until one o'clock at night. Since 1939, Alkmaar has been the only place in the Netherlands to maintain the cheese market tradition in this form. Every year, on 22 Fridays from mid-April to mid-September, the market takes place on the Waagplein.
The Waagplein was enlarged for the last time in 1901. Before then, buildings covered almost the whole square. The enlargement of the square kept pace with the volume of the cheese trade. Turnover now is not even 10% of what it was at the beginning of the 20th century, but the number of tourists has increased enormously. About 100,000 people from all over the world visit the cheese market in Alkmaar every year.
In the 17th century, cheese was traded on Fridays and Saturdays from May to All Saints’ Day. At that time, each group of cheese carriers (veem) had its own weighing house. In the 18th century, there was a cheese market four times a week. The cheese carriers’ guild did not have their own patron saint, or their own altar in church like other professional guilds such as the cobblers, coopers, coppersmiths and tanners.
The cheese carriers’ guild of Alkmaar
By tradition, the Alkmaar cheese carriers’ guild is responsible for moving and weighing cheese during the cheese market on Fridays. The guild consists of four groups (vemen) of seven men each.
Each veem has its own colour: red, yellow, green or blue. The head of the four vemen is the 'cheese father', the supervisor. As a sign of his office, the cheese father carries a black stick with a silver knob. The cheese carriers wear the traditional costume: a white suit and a straw hat with a ribbon in the colour of their own veem. An experienced carrier is known as a vastman (a regular). Before then, he is known as a noodhulp (temporary assistant). The oldest cheese carrier in a veem is called the tasman (bagman). He can be recognised by the black leather bag he wears. The tasman puts the weights on the balance when the cheese is weighed.
Every two years, a leader is chosen for each veem: the overman. He can be recognised by a little silver escutcheon with a ribbon in the colour of his veem. The board of the guild appoints a provost and a servant. The provost helps the guild board and is known 'executioner' by the cheese carriers. He notes the names of latecomers and collects the appropriate fine. The provost wears a silver cheese barrow on a ribbon in the colour of his veem. The servant does the odd jobs for the guild.
The square is prepared before the cheese carriers’ guild goes into action. The market inspector supervises the removal of the cheese from the trucks as they are positioned on the square in long rows by the zetters. When the bell is rung at ten o'clock, the zetters load the barrows and the cheese carriers carry them to the balance to weigh the cheese. Sworn weighing masters supervise the weighing and complete the weight slips. Meanwhile, on the square, traders and inspectors determine the quality of the cheese on offer. Haggling about the price takes place using the handjeklap system, literally clapping hands with other merchants.