While frowned upon in some countries around the world, Holland is proud of its liberal attitude towards cheese. From streetcorner dealers to rural farms, cheese is for sale all over this small nation and is used openly and regularly by citizenry and visitors alike.
If cheese is your vice, the best place in Holland to get your fix is Alkmaar, a short 30-minute train ride from Amsterdam.
Alkmaar may not be home to a world famous variety of cheese like its fellow Dutch towns of Gouda and Edam, but it takes its cheese seriously with a cheese museum, a local football team nicknamed “the cheese eaters”, and most importantly the legendary Alkmaar cheese market. Dating back to the 14th Century, the Alkmaar cheese market is regarded as the most historic in Holland, and is held every Friday from April to September.
I recently attended the market, and here is my running report on the proceedings from that day:
8:30: Leave the hotel and start our stroll into the town center. Along the way, several large tour buses blow by us on the road. “Looks like it might be one of those type of things” we mutter to ourselves.
9:00 – Approach the Waagplein (weighing square), the spot where it’s all going to go down in an hour. Things are quiet, with several wheels of cheese already neatly laid out on the ground and a large grandstand set up in the corner.
9:15 – Pop into a cafe for breakfast, and on the way in flirt with a local cheese seller who has set up a street stall. He acts like he is interested in what we have to say and even takes a picture of us. The rouse works, as we promise to buy some cheese after breakfast.
9:55 – Pay the bill, buy some cheese from our new friend, and then walk smack into a sea of humanity, all jockeying for position to see the cheese market. It’s definitely one of those type of things.
10:00 – The market has officially begun and cheese-fueled bedlam has broken out all over the Waggplein. Children are on shoulders, senior citizens are taking pictures on iPads, people are even bashing wheels of cheese over each other’s heads in order to get closer to the action. Okay, maybe I made that last one up.
10:15 – After 15 minutes of speaking in Dutch (the nerve), the emcee explains in English the gist of what the Alkmaar cheese market is all about. Basically, in days of old, farmers used to bring their cheese here to be weighed, sold, and then distributed throughout Holland.
10:18 – She introduces a young local boy who found a diamond necklace in the mud around town and heroically returned it to the original owners. His prize? He gets to participate in the cheese market.
Tough break, kid.
10:25 – Men in white jackets and colorful hats are running around carrying cheese with wood contraptions attached to their shoulders like mad men. These guys are part of something called cheese guilds, and they have been apparently hustling cheese on this town square since 1365.
10:40 – Managed to weasel ourselves up to the front of the barricades, and life is good. The action is so fast-and-furious that it’s tough to follow though, so I identify my favorite cheese handler, and just focus in on him. I lean over the rail to see if I can get a high five when he wheels his next batch of cheese by me and I’m hoping for an autograph later.
10:50 – After ten minutes of taking pictures and soaking in the atmosphere, we decide it’s time to let someone else have the front row glory. We turn around and carefully select our successor who eagerly runs to the front with camera already snapping.
11:00 – Walk back to the hotel with our souvenir wheel of cheese as tour buses blow by us with reckless abandon. We’re just glad we survived one of these type of things, and would definitely do it again, because while definitely cheesy, the Alkmaar Cheese Market is definitely a great time.
This post originally appeared on Travel Pulse.