The Dutch love their cheese and nowhere was this more evident than in Alkmaar.
We dropped the van at a campsite on the outskirts of the the city, where the owner clearly knew the rules and put us next to another Westy, then cycled along well maintained cycle routes into the centre.
It’s a medieval city, pretty and very lively. Narrow lanes bustle with people and the canal side cafes are full with shoppers and tourists.
In the centre is a large market square, the Waagplein. Each Friday during the spring and summer it hosts a very special cheese market. It’s not a real cheese market in that you can’t actually buy the cheeses, but a tourist attraction showing how cheese was traded in days of old. It is an incredibly popular show and draws great crowds to the city. Cheeses are graded and weighed, transported on two man sleds. Barges bring the cheeses into market and traders exchange special handshakes to agree on a price. All the while the quality inspectors sample the produce, although in this show they share that role with the eager crowd.
The market is a fun spectacle and it’s not really a problem that the cheeses are not for sale as Alkmaar has many cheese shops (and unsurprisingly a cheese museum). On Cheese Market Day, real cheese market stalls set up around the perimeter. Both shops and market stalls encourage you to ‘try before you buy’ the many different variations of cow, sheep and goat cheeses. Trying to decide which cheeses to buy is hard, but delicious work. Who knew that cheese and cumin was such a wonderful combination? Of course, if you tire of cheese (if that is indeed possible?) there are always alternatives, such as the chips with mayo or the pancakes…