Saturday, September 6, 2008

Alkmaar Cheese Market

We took the opportunity of going to the famous cheese market in Alkmaar on Friday. It was the last market demonstration of the year. It is a traditional market that has taken place since 1622. It is now just a tourist attraction and not a necessary part of the cheese selling process. About 700-1000 wheels of cheese (each weighing about 30 lbs) are placed two high in stacks on the plaza. Inspectors then check out the cheeses and take samples from random wheels, and hand samples to a few of the spectators. A buyers and sellers haggle over the price of a stack of cheeses, and an agreement is reached. Then, the cheese carriers pick up a load of 8 wheels on a barrow and carry it to the weighing house scales. Next the carriers take the load to the other end of the plaza to be loaded. They walk with a special "cheese carriers dribble", a particular walking rhythm to make it easier. They step out of time as it were, insuring the barrow hangs as still as possible. "In a stride reminiscent of someone hurrying to the toilet". They do that for 2 1/2 hours, and despite the weight they carry, they seem to really enjoy what they are doing and smile and hoot. We only saw a couple of cheese wheels drop, once when a rope broke. This is a sight that is really worth seeing. It runs from the first Friday in April to the first Friday in September. Our mission president encourages each couple to experience the culture that surrounds them.

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