Cheese carriers are required to
be present at the Waaggebouw (weighing house) at 7 am, but in reality only the kaaszetters are on time. Cheese carriers arrive at 9.30 am. Those arriving too late are stated on the “stocks” and are required to pay a fine which is collected by the “provost marshal”. Cheese father calls the roll.
The bell rings on the
stroke of 10 am; the sign indicating the start of the cheese market. The ringing of the bell is often done by a visitor to the market, at the invitation of the council of Alkmaar, for instance. This may be a famous Dutch person from sports or TV, or a foreign ambassador Opening of the market.
Price bargaining per kilo is
still done by means of clapping hands: bargaining by clapping one another’s hands and shouting prices. The last clap clinches the sale of a batch of cheese. Price bargaining.
There are five cheese markets
operating in the Netherlands. Woerden is a fully functional modern commercial cheese market. Four, Alkmaar, Gouda, Edam, Hoorn, are reproductions of traditional merchant cheese markets as operated in the Middle Ages. These shows are today surrounded by stalls selling all things traditional to the Dutch culture, including cheese.
This cheese market is open
every Friday morning between 10 and 12 from the first Friday in April until the first Friday in September. Market activities are explained in Dutch, German, English and sometimes Japanese. There are four teams (vemen) of cheese-porters (kaasdragers), who can be recognised by their differently coloured straw hats: red, blue, green and yellow.
The Cheesemaid’s job is to
promote cheese and the Cheese Market. The idea came from the Dutch Dairy Board, who are responsible for the promotion of Dutch cheese at home and abroad. There are always at least two Cheesemaids in attendance at the Alkmaar Cheese Market.
Two porters bring cheese on
stretchers to the weighing house (Waag) - a typical stretcher "weighs in" at about 160 kilograms. Merchants sample the cheeses and decide on a price using a barter system called handjeklap, literally clapping hands
As soon as the market
opens, the samplers and traders go to work. Inspecting cheese is more than just looking at its exterior. Cheese is knocked on and a special cheese scoop used to obtain a piece, which is then crumbled between the fingers and smelled.
Cheese is a food made
from milk, usually the milk of cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep, by coagulation. The milk is acidified, typically with a bacterial culture, then the addition of the enzyme rennet or a substitute (e.g. acetic acid or vinegar) causes coagulation, to give "curds and whey". Some cheeses also have molds, either on the outer rind (similar to a fruit peel) or throughout.
Hundreds of types of cheese
are produced. Their different styles, textures and flavors depend on the origin of the milk (including the animal's diet), whether it has been pasteurized, butterfat content, the species of bacteria and mold, and the processing including the length of aging. Herbs, spices, or wood smoke may be used as flavoring agents. The yellow to red color of many cheeses is a result of adding annatto. Cheeses are eaten both on their own and cooked in various dishes; most cheeses melt when heated.
For a few cheeses, the
milk is curdled by adding acids such as vinegar or lemon juice. Most cheeses are acidified to a lesser degree by bacteria, which turn milk sugars into lactic acid, then the addition of rennet completes the curdling. Vegetarian alternatives to rennet are available; most are produced by fermentation of the fungus Mucor miehei, but others have been extracted from various species of the Cynara thistle family.
Cheese has served as a
hedge against famine and is a good travel food. It is valuable for its portability, long life, and high content of fat, protein, calcium, and phosphorus. Cheese is more compact and has a longer shelf life than the milk from which it is made. Cheesemakers near a dairy region may benefit from fresher, lower-priced milk, and lower shipping costs. The long storage life of cheese allows selling it when markets are more favorable.
Once the batch is sold
and weighed, the cheese carriers carry the cheese across the market to the buyers’ lorries. Cheese is transported on the wooden barrow hanging between two cheese carriers, holding about 8 Gouda cheeses, each of them weighing 13,5 kilos.
Edam is possibly the most
popular of the markets described here, and as the name suggests, this market sells primarily Edam cheese. The cheeses are still brought to the market by horse-drawn carriages and boat. EDAM.