History of the cheese market
For centuries, the cheesemarket has been important for the city. In 1365 Alkmaar was granted weighing rights and a weighing scale, and in 1612 this number increased to four. Exactly when the first cheese market took place is shrouded in mystery. Old documents have been found that confirm the cheese market definitely took place in 1622, but there is also evidence that the cheese bearer's guild was founded in 1593; we can therefore deduce that there must have been a cheese market at that time as well.
In the 17th century, cheese was traded on Fridays and Saturdays and in the 18th century even on four days a week! The market has always taken place on the Waagplein. Back then the square did not have the size it has nowadays. From time to time, when the cheese market needed more space, houses were being demolished. In the course of two centuries, it was enlarged no fewer than eight times before it reached its current dimensions. In the past, most cheese were transported by boat or horse. This centuries-old tradition has survived to this very day. During every market, cheese laden boats sail from the Noordhollandsch Canal to the square, just as they did in the past. No real trade is conducted at today's market. A true-to-life demonstration is given to illustrate how the market once functioned.
The cheese bearers
In the Middle Ages it was common to set up a guild for each profession and the cheese bearers guild was one such group, founded in 1593. The cheese bearers still honour various traditions and customs from the past. This will be discussed in more detail later.
The cheese bearer's guild consists of four groups, known as the 'warehouses'. They were recognized by their green, blue, red and yellow hats. The cheese father, identified by his walking stick and orange hat, presides over the four warehouses and is affectionately referred to by the men as 'dad' or 'father'. Each warehouse consists of six cheese bearers and a head cheese bearer, known as a bag man.
Every week one of the four warehouses is relieved from bearing and given 'barrow duty' during which assistance is given filling the hand barrows. They also help out by standing in when someone from another warehouse is absent. Each of the remaining three warehouses have their own scales.
Becoming a cheese bearer is not a simple matter. It is an honorary job that is often performed in addition to other, permanent employment. Many cheese bearers are also business owners. Before becoming a cheese bearer, individuals serve as reserve workers. They are recognized at the market by their white hats.