While The Netherlands is famous for its cheese, most of the cheese markets that are held aren’t what they used to be nowadays. However, some cheese markets are still like the old days and less discovered by tourists. Isn’t that something that we all want? Then I present to you: a guide to the cheese markets of The Netherlands. If you feel like there is any information missing, or something that you would like to know, just ask me in the comments below and I will give you an answer.
The cheese on the markets is sold in a special way. How they sell the cheese you ask me? They do something which we call ‘handjeklap’. This means that they clap their hands onto each other’s hand as fast as they can, which they use to determine the price of the cheese. It goes so fast and without words that you don’t have any clue of what’s happening. It’s a special sight to see though.
Nowadays there are five cheese markets left. Four of those cheese markets are sort of a play so people can see what it used to be like, which is really interesting. The people wear the same clothing as they used to wear back in the days, and every movement made is the exact way. Those cheese markets are Gouda, Alkmaar, Edam, and Hoorn. The final three are located in the province Noord- Holland (North- Holland), Gouda in Zuid- Holland (South- Holland).
The one remaining market is the real deal. So, the cheese is really getting sold by the use of the so-called ‘handjeklap’. Cheese farmers and wholesales men are trading at their best. This cheese market is in Woerden.
I bet you haven’t heard of most of these cities in The Netherlands huh? Let me know in the comments below if you have because I will be pleasantly surprised. Anyway, let’s continue about the cheese markets that you should visit in The Netherlands before I start rants on how Amsterdam isn’t the only city in The Netherlands.
As I said before, Alkmaar has one of the four cheese markets that is basically a reconstruction of how the cheese market used to be in the early days. The cheese market turns a square in the middle of the center of Alkmaar into a hive of activity. Thousands of original Gouda cheese are lined up on the ground waiting to be sold.
Around the reconstruction of the cheese market, there are stalls selling all things traditional to my and our Dutch culture, including clogs and cheese (the last one was maybe a little bit predictive…). Alkmaar is 40 minutes by train, from Amsterdam.
In the year 1365 the city of Alkmaar owns one cheese scale (where the cheese gets weighed), however, in the year of 1612 there are already four. This indicates the extreme growth the market went through. On the 17th of June 1593, the ‘kaasdragersgilde’ got created. A so-called ‘gilde’ was something very common in The Netherlands during the medieval times. For every profession, there was a gilde, which was kind of like a trade union. So of course, the ‘kaasdragers’ (cheese-porters) also needed a gilde.
The market was always held at the same place as today, het Waagplein (the square in front of de Waag; the weighing house). During two centuries the square got expanded in size. And not just once, eight times until it got the current square. In the 17th century, there were cheese markets in Alkmaar every Friday and Saturday from May until All Saints Day. In the 18th century the two days a week expanded towards four days a week.
The Dutch cheese farmers traditionally brought their cheeses to the market square in town to sell them at the best price. There are four so-called ‘vemen’, which are teams of the official ‘kaasdragersgilde’. You can identify the different teams by the colour of the ribbon around their straw hats. These cheese- porters carry the Gouda cheeses (in the early days they mainly sold Edammer cheese) onto and off the square.
After that samples of the cheese are tasted, tested, purchased and weighed in and around de Waag. The judges and traders in Alkmaar look at the cheese, knock on them and cut them in half. Then, they will take a piece of cheese out of the cheese and smell and test it on elasticity. The judges and traders will crumble pieces of cheese to determine the fat and moisture content in the cheese.
After that they will look at the so-called ‘ogen’ (eyes), meaning: the holes in the cheese. If the holes in the cheeses are evenly spread out, the quality is better than when the cheese doesn’t have any ‘ogen’.
Usually, the two cheese-porters carry eight cheeses (one cheese weighs around 13,5 kg) on a ‘berrie'(barrows that weigh 25 kg each), that is a total of around 130 kg (free workout with the aftermath of a lot of cheese, where can I sign?). This is why you might think that the cheese-porters walk a bit odd. Because of this walk, the ‘berrie’ doesn’t move as much, which makes it easier for them to walk around with 130 kg.
The price of the cheese will be determined by the use of ‘handslag’ or ‘handjeklap’, meaning that the farmers and the buyer will clap their hands as fast as possible while shouting a price. It is something that the public cannot understand by themselves, therefore there is a narrator. So, don’t worry if you don’t understand the prices. The last clap determines the final price. Once they agreed on the price, the porters carry the cheeses to the weighing house, Waag, and scale of their company.
Opening and preparation
For visitors the cheese market starts at 10:00, however for the people who organize the market it starts differently. Trucks filled with cheeses from the factories of Campina and Cono drive as close towards het Waagplein as they possibly can. At 7:00 they start placing around 30.000 kg of Gouda cheese in long lines on het Waagplein. The number of cheeses is around 2400 pieces. The deadline for the placement of the cheeses is 9:30.
The ‘kaasvader’ (cheese father, yes really. We take this shit seriously.) is the head of the four ‘vemen’ or teams speaks at 9:45 in front of the cheese- porters. He will tell them about the amount of kg’s of cheese that are laying in front of them on the market right now and whether there are any important guests, journalists or tv stations. The ‘kaasvader’ also looks whether the Gilde is complete and places the vemen on their exact working location of the market.
By 13:00, which is the official closing time of the market, the cheeses need to be off the Waagplein again, into the truck of the transporter.
The cheese market in Alkmaar is in 2018 every Friday morning between the 30th of March and the 28th of September from 10:00- 13:00. It is located on Het Waagplein.
Keep in mind that there will be an evening cheese market every Tuesday evening of July and August between 19:00 and 21:00.
During the cheese markets, there are several markets and fairs with stalls that show typical Dutch crafts, Dutch food and much more. It is definitely worth it to stay a little longer in Alkmaar than just for the cheese market.
There is information available in Dutch (obviously), German, English, French, and Spanish.
One of the other famous cheese markets of The Netherlands is the cheese market of Edam. It couldn’t be any different as the so-called Edammer cheese is one of the most popular cheese, named after the city. Edam doesn’t have a trainstation, but it does have several busstation. The bus will take you between 40 and 50 minutes to the cute city of Edam.
In the year 1526, Edam got the right of having a Kaaswaag (weighing house) from emperor Karel V. In 1573 the city got its forever rights of keeping the Kaaswaag from Prince Willem van Oranje (which translates to: of Orange).
The reason being that the Edammers worked well together during the so-called ‘beleg’ of Alkmaar. The ‘beleg’ of Alkmaar was during the eighty-year war against the Spanish, and it got freed with the help of many people, including the Edammers. ‘I love it when a plan comes together’, is something Willem must’ve thought. Although the A-team didn’t exist back then, I’m sure he would be a fan of them. Anyway, back to the cheeses.
The cheeses were being transported towards the cheese market of Edam via boats and wagons. In the 17th century, The Netherlands was already well known for its cheese and butter, especially in Germany, England, and France. The small, round Edammer cheese was practical to transport with the use of ships.
Surprisingly, the cheeses weren’t only used as food, but also as the perfect trading product for spices and other things. In 1680 the cheese market got a change of location. It got placed onto the Jan van Nieuwenhuizenplein after they removed the canal and water that was once there and decided it was time to add an extra square.
The current Waag was built in the year of 1778 and until the year of 1922, the real cheese market existed.
Just to give you an idea of the popularity of the Edammer cheeses, in 1649 people were trading 250.000 cheeses in Edam. Nowadays The Netherlands produces 27 million Edammer cheeses.
Although this cheese market is also a reconstruction of the market that closed in 1922, it is important to keep the tradition alive. The opening and closing of the cheese market are followed by a bell.
The Noord Wester Edammer will be brought to the market by the farmers with the use of a boat or a horse and carriage. When they arrive at the market the ‘kaaszetter’ (the man who places the cheeses in the correct location) places the cheeses in the correct location. After that, the trader takes a special cheese ‘drill’ and takes a piece out of the cheese while judging it.
Then it is ‘handjeklap’ time. ‘Handjeklap’ is used on every cheese market in The Netherlands to set the price per kg of cheese between the trader and the farmer. If the trader likes the price and the taste of the cheese, the cheese-porters carry it with the use of a ‘berrie’ (the barrow that weighs 25 kg each) towards the weighing building (waag). In the Waag the total kilos of cheese will be weighed. After that the cheeses will be loaded onto a mode of transportation, for instance, horse and carriages, to be transported to the ‘kaaspakhuis’ (cheese depot). Here the cheeses will ripen further.
At the cheese market, there is a narrator, who will tell you exactly what is happening and why in three different languages (Dutch, English, and German).
You can also see a video about the whole process of making cheese in a beautiful restored little church. Besides that, you can guess the weight of a portion of cheese on the market and win prizes. Which is something I as a Dutch person would participate in. Free prizes, what are you waiting for? The entire market is free to visit, including participation of the games. Don’t forget to buy an Edammer for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It won’t last you long with a taste like that.
Opening and preparation
The opening and closing of the cheese market are done with the help of a bell. An important guest from The Netherlands or abroad has the honour to give it a big hit.
Every week more than 90 volunteers are helping with the cheese market in Edam with the help of sponsor Beemsterkaas. There are an old Dutch street organ and a band dressed in traditional clothing from the area of Edam.
The cheese market in Edam takes place during the summer months of July and August, every Wednesday morning.
In 2018 it dates from the 4th of July until the 22nd of August. It starts at 10:30 and ends at 12:30. Yearly there are only eight markets, so make sure to plan well. It is located on the Jan van Nieuwenhuizenplein.
Hoorn is a not often visited city, but worth a visit. It’s small, but not as small as Edam. The beautiful houses, friendly people and the cheesemarket make it a perfect daytrip. Especially since it is only 40 minutes away from Amsterdam, by, you guessed it, train.
Hoorn got its borough rights in the year 1357. The cheese was already an important source of income for the city. Around the year of 1600, Hoorn became one of the leading city of our so-called VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Companie: around the time that half of the world started to colonize countries).
De Roode Steen, a square in the center of Hoorn, became the central trading spot of the city. Farmers from the area sold their agricultural products on the markets, while traders were trading everything that they could. During that time the Waag (weighing building) for cheese was built by the famous architect Hendrick de Keyser.
The scale in the Waag is still used during the cheese markets in Hoorn. In the 19th century, the cheese market of Hoorn was the biggest of the province Noord- Holland. Because of the second world war, it stopped existing.
The cheese market of Hoorn has been reintroduced in June 2007 as the city celebrated its 650 years existence. The cheeses are brought from and to the Roode Steen square by horses and carriages.
Together with Beemsterkaas, who sponsors the cheeses, you will see at the market, and many volunteers the cheese market is making a comeback. Even though the market is a show in this time of day, it shows the important and interesting heritage of the Dutch people.
The Roode Steen is one of the most beautiful squares of The Netherlands, as it is surrounded by houses from the 17th century. And most importantly, they are also used in the play. The cheese porters carry the cheeses on the ‘beries’ further up the square and towards the weighing house.
The volunteers are playing the head of the market, cheese-porters, cheese-placers, traders, farmers, cheese-girls (the ones walking around with cheese in their hands and handing it out to hangry people) and so-called masters of the wagon (the men who come with their horses and carriages).
Besides the cheese market, there are traditional Westfriese (the area of North Holland where Hoorn is located is called West Friesland) wearing traditional clothing and performing traditional dances on, you guessed it, traditional music.
Opening and preparation
Between 13:00 and 13:45 volunteers are building the market. After that, between 13:45 and 14:00, the cheese porters are being welcomed and showed to the audience. At 14:00 the cheese market of Hoorn officially starts while being opened by a guest. I have a recommendation for the next guest. CHOOSE ME. Extra bonus if I’m able to eat cheese for free (what if it’s free I’ll take it). At 14:10 the opening of the cheese market finishes and the first Westfriese dancing group will perform until 14:30. After that, the cheese market continues at 14:30 and is followed by another performance of dancers. The big finale is between 15:30 and 15:45. At 15:45 the market ends.
From Thursday the 14th of June until the 30th of August the cheese market takes place every Thursday. Besides the cheese market, there are traditional Westfriese dancing groups wearing traditional clothing.
The narrators tell stories in Dutch, German and English. It takes place on the most important square of the city; de Roode Steen, another common name for the square is Kaasmarkt.
I think that nowadays many people know about the city of Gouda. It is an hour by train from Amsterdam and is also close to De Keukenhof. Because of this, many people visit the cheese market of Gouda while being in the area. And it is worth it. Even though it isn’t the real deal anymore, people can walk between the cheeses and interact with all the volunteers.
The cheese market in Gouda was first held in the year of 1395 and was the starting point of the famous Gouda cheese. Farmers from the area brought their cheeses with the use of horses and carriages to the market in front of the Waag (weighing house). The Goudse Waag is one of the three most important buildings of Gouda, historically looking. It played an important part in the trade for centuries in a row. From the year 1920 only, Gouda cheese was being weighed at the Waag.
In the year of 1937 more than 4,5 million kilos of cheese was being sold, with the use of at least 15,245 carriages. One Gouda cheese weighs at least 15 kilos each. Because of the rise of factories, the official Gouda cheese market ended in the second half of the 20th century. When exactly isn’t clear. Some people speak about the Gouda cheese market stopping in the 50s, others in the 70s.
The cheeses will be delivered by the farmers with the use of horses and carriages. The cheeses will be getting on and off the market with the help of so-called ‘brikken’. These ‘brikken’ are special carriages to transport the cheese as good as possible.
In front of the Waag farmers will discuss the price of the cheese per kilos with the traders. Of course, this is done with the help of our famous ‘handjeklap’ (if you don’t know what that means by now, then you’re busted. Read the article again.). The cheeses are weighed in the monumental building of the Waag.
During the cheese market, there are also many stalls that show the special crafts that are typical for this area of The Netherlands, or typical for the entire country. People will show you how they used to make clogs, buttermilk, candles and much more.
Nowadays the Waag is not only used during the cheese markets, it turned into the cheese and craft museum. You can learn everything from the process of creating a Gouda cheese to creating your own candles in a craft lesson.
Opening and preparation
Early in the morning (think 6 am) the first volunteers are already on the market. They make sure that the pallets and cheeses are being placed in the right way and on the perfect spot. This takes a while to be completed. After that, everyone dresses up as moving cheeses and pallets in traditional uniforms isn’t the most practical.
At 9:00 there are five lines of nine pallets on the market in front of the Waag. A few cheeses are placed already, but the rest of them are coming from the Turfmarkt. They are sometimes being brought by local schoolchildren in traditional clothing.
In the morning the cheese market starts at 10:00 by moving the bell of the town hall. You will see the traditional ‘handjeklap’, and the trading of cheeses between the farmer and trader. At 13:00 the market ends.
The cheese market in Gouda takes place every Thursday morning from April until August between 10:00 and 13:00. Keep in mind that they will not be held on national holidays.
May: 3, 17, 24, 31.
June: 7, 14, 21, 28.
July: 5, 12, 19, 26.
August: 2, 9, 16, 23, 30.
The city of Woerden is located only 40 minutes away from Amsterdam by train, and not often visited by outsiders. This is about to change if I could decide.The cheese market is one of the many things that make Woerden popular, and definitely worth a visit. The only real cheese market of The Netherlands deserves a chance.
Woerden got its cheese market in the year of 1885. Here they also used the famous ‘handjeklap’ to discuss and agree on the prices for the cheese per kilogram. After the year 1900, there were fewer farmers than before as the rise of cheese-making factories had arrived.
At first, it was held on the Kerkplein, but after 1923, the cheese market of Woerden changed locations to the Nieuwe Markt. In 1925, to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of the cheese market, Woerden got a cheese bell.
On the so-called cheese bell, you can write the amount of cheese, the prices on the market and the prices and amount of cheese on the nearby markets. Most of the cheese in the area of Woerden got sold either here or in Bodegraven (this market doesn’t exist anymore).
However, even though the cheese market in Woerden isn’t the biggest, it is the only real one. They sell cheese from different farmers across the region, which is not only a real experience to see but to taste as well. The cheese is still transported and placed in warehouses in and outside Woerden.
The cheese farmers from all across the region lay their cheeses in lines for sale. Either on a carriage behind a tractor or on a hand-barrow. The head of the market rings the bell to indicate the start of the market. The traders are wearing long, white coats and fancy hats. It seems as you just entered a lab. They are looking at the cheeses and know every, single detail.
As soon as the trader knows the quality of the cheese (he discovers that by knocking on the cheese), he starts discussing the prices with the farmer with, you guessed it, pushing their clogs together. Wait what? I’m joking. Of course, they also use ‘handjeklap’ here.
The farmer wears a blue overall, a red handkerchief and a hat. The price, in general, is around five euros per kilo. When all the cheese has been sold and weighed, the bell is used again to show the end of the market.
There is also a traditional, authentic cheese market every year in the month of August. The farmers will arrive with the most historic transport that they have to the cheese market. During the day there are tests for the most beautiful product of each category.
The audience can get the chance during the event ‘Vermaak me smaak’, to give it a shot as well. The top five of the original tests will be tasted by the audience, who then chooses a winner. You will also see the tradition of ‘handjeklap’ where the farmers and traders will almost fight each other heads off (don’t worry, not literally) for the best prices. Everyone will wear traditional clothing.
Another event is on the first Saturday of June. The first grass cheese will be presented. No, not made of grass, but from the milk of cows that eat grass. As cows aren’t outside the entire year because of the weather, April is the month that they go outside again. Cheese needs to ripen further for some months (depending on how old you want your cheese to be). When the first cheese is sold, a 125 kg grass cheese is being auctioned for charity.
Opening and preparation
The normal cheese markets start at 10:30 when the local mayor of Woerden together with the so-called youth queen and ladies-in-waiting are driven towards the city enter. The prizes of the tests are awarded near the cheese bell.
At 11:00, the cheese market opens, and everyone is allowed to start with ‘handjeklap’. Around 12:00 the final price per kilo is decided. On the Kerkplein (church square) visitors can make cheese and try the famous boerenkaas from the area (farmer cheese).
There is a narrator who tells the audience everything that is happening in the cheese market.
In 2018, the normal cheese markets are every Saturday morning from the 28th of April until the 25th of August. It starts at 11:00 until 13:00 at Kerkplein (church square).
The special day for grass cheese is at Saturday the 2nd of June from 11:00- 13:00, at the same location, Kerkplein.
The historic cheese market is on Saturday the 25th of August from 9:00- 17:00, also at Kerkplein.
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