Friday, May 13, 2016

A Cheese-y Day Trip

One of the many reasons we were excited about living in Hamburg is its easy accessibility to so many other places. Although our vision of hop-scotching through Europe on regular weekend excursions has yet to come to pass, I did spend a whirlwind 18 hours in the Netherlands last week to see a friend from my job at POST, and tag along with her and her partner to visit the Alkmaar cheese market.

Alkmaar is about 40 km northwest of Amsterdam. This quiet, quaint town started its cheese trading in 1365. Even though its cheese distribution has now been modernized, every Friday from late spring to early fall, the town puts on a reproduction of their centuries-old cheese market traditions.

Over the course of the first hour, we heard running commentary--in four languages--from the cheese market MC, giving us an overview of the market's history and players (you can read a bit about it here).

In case you weren't sure which way to go,
they had these markers set up to lead you
from the train station to the market square!
[photo courtesy of Kathryn Hargis]

Bringing the cheese to the market

The market square. The day we were there they were partnering with Aklmaar's Beatle Museum (don't ask), so the carillion tunes at the beginning of the market were all Beatles songs (including "Michelle"!)
Quality check. They cut a wheel in half
and inspect it, then core out
samples for tasting.
(We were close enough to try it--yum!)
Each wheel of cheese weighs about 25 pounds!
[photo courtesy of Kathryn Hargis]

After the quality is assured,
the seller (left)
and buyer (right)
slap hands continuously,
negotiating until they
come to an agreement.
No easy feat to toss this cheese around to load onto sledges.
There's a lot of running with cheese
at the market. After it's loaded
onto sledges it's taken to the scales.

After it's weighed, the carriers trot off to take the cheese to waiting wooden wagons.

Yes, we tried that flourescent blue cheese you see in the back.
It's a pesto cheese with lavender giving it that unique color.
Very mild flavor--almost like a mozzarella with lavender accents.

All around the market square were different vendors, selling everything from waffles and Dutch shoes, to, of course, different types of cheese. It was the perfect way to spend a beautiful day, and I look forward to more chances to travel abroad for glimpses of the incredible history around me!

[photo courtesy of Kathryn Hargis]

p.s. If you go to the cheese market: it's about a 20 minute walk from the train station to the market square. We got there at 9:25 and had prime viewing. Although the market goes from 10-12:30, you'll want to get there early, because things slow down a lot after the first hour.

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