I remember the exact moment I fell in love with cheese. The exact moment. Is that weird?
My family and I were enjoying a picnic lunch of sandwiches and fruit after a bike ride through the Amsterdamse Bos, a thousand-hectare park just south of Amsterdam. Mom handed me a sandwich, but I shook my head when I saw what was on it. I hated cheese.
“Taste it,” Mom said. “You’ll like this cheese.”
And ― whoa! That was the moment. I’d spent thirteen years pulling up my nose at fermented milk products, and all it took was a bit of Gouda cheese on bread to convert me to a wonderful new world. At that precise moment, cheese became my favourite food group. It seems, as was the case with me and beer, that I had to be in a country that knows how to properly make cheese (or beer) before I was able to appreciate its finer qualities. The discoveries you make when you travel.
And so, it was my love of Dutch cheese that brought me eventually (perhaps inevitably?) to the Alkmaar Cheese Market. (Dare I call it a pilgrimmage?)
Alkmaar’s centuries-old cheese market is held on Friday mornings from April to September in the Waagplein (that’s Dutch for “weighing square”) located beside the Weigh House. Alkmaar is only a thirty-minute train ride north of Amsterdam, so a visit to the cheese market is easily done as a day trip if you are based in Amsterdam.
There are always crowds, so get here early if you want to be able to see everything that goes on. Essentially, what you are watching is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years: the cheese makers bring their cheese to the market, the traders and buyers inspect it, and then the deals are made. All the while, men dressed in white carry the cheese using special carriers from the Waagplein, where the wheels of cheese are laid out in neat rows, to the Weigh House to be weighed and back again.
The following is a photo tour of what I saw and learned in Alkmaar. (Click on the first photo at top left to open the slide show.)
Back to the cheese epiphany I had at age thirteen. A few weeks after that momentous picnic lunch, our family settled in at the small Dutch town where we would be living for a few months. We soon got into a routine of going to the weekly outdoor market along the canal. Our first stop was always the kaas stand (cheese stand) where Mom showed us how it was expected that you always taste the cheese before buying. We’d each of us get a nibble of cheese, and then Mom would make her selection.
Oh, for the love of cheese.