In August 2015, I went to Gouda for the penultimate cheese market of the year. This year, I returned on the 6th of April for the first market of the year. The weather was a little cooler and the sun was not shining so brightly as it was on my previous visit, but I arrived nice and early and caught the whole thing from the beginning.
Gouda is one of five Dutch cheese markets. The other markets are held in Alkmaar, Edam, Hoorn, and Woerden. The latter is the only town where the business of buying and selling cheese is conducted in earnest. The Cheese markets in Alkmaar, Edam, and Hoorn, only exist to attract tourists. The only real buying and selling of cheese occurs at the market stalls that are situated near the market square.
Although there were plenty of people making videos and creating snapshots with their cameras, mobile phones, and tablets, the first Gouda cheese market of 2017 was not as busy as I expected and I have to wonder if it is promoted as well as it could be. The only reason I didn’t miss it was because I set up a Google Alert that informs me whenever the cheese market in Gouda makes the news or is mentioned on someone’s blog.
I arrived at the market place for around 08:40 and it was already filled with cheese. You cannot see it in the picture below because it was behind me when I snapped the shot, but the old weigh house (De Goudsa Waag), with its giant scales, is just a matter of meters away from the two rows of stacked cheeses.
When farmers used to come to Gouda to sell their cheese, the all-important process of weighing them was carried out in the Waag. The scales are still there, but the bottom floor of the Waag now houses the tourist information office (VVV) and the upper floors are a museum. It’s definitely worth a visit. There are a few interesting items to see and you can also watch a video presentation that explains the history and Gouda cheese and how it is made.
If you decide to visit the Gouda Cheese market you will notice a lot of people in white jackets. You will also see a lot of people donning blue jackets and clogs. The people in white are supposed to be the cheese buyers. The ones in blue are farmers. There is also a guy in a yellow jacket who acts as a kind of host/presenter and spends a lot of time talking into a nifty cheese-shaped microphone.
I’m not sure if it happens every time, but there were also a lot of young children present who were dressed as farmers and farmer’s wives. They were there to help out with the opening of the cheese market but departed once things got under way.
The Gouda Cheese Market does not start in earnest until the bell on the Oude Stad Huis (old council building) is rung. The Alderman of Gouda, Daphne Bergman, was present to open the first market of the year, and a couple of children assisted her with the all-important task of ringing the bell. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the bell. The alderman and her two little assistants swung the rope to the sound of silence. A few more goes produced a clang that was not in keeping with the situation, so the man in the yellow suit lent a helping hand, the bell began to clang louder, and the first cheese market of the year was officially opened.
The traditional bargaining process between the farmers and buyers involves a lot of hand slapping and shaking. Then the agreed price is logged on a board in front of the Oude Stad Huis. The sold cheeses are then loaded into horse-drawn carts and driven away. However, because this is just a show for tourists, they don’t go far. The drivers and their carts wait behind the Goudsa Waag and then return for a similar performance later on.
The Gouda Cheese Market is interesting, but it’s only one of many things to see and do in Gouda. The city is also home to the longest church in the Netherlands, has a couple of interesting windmills, an old chocolate factory, and several art galleries and museums. Although everyone always focuses on the cheese connection, Gouda is also the birthplace of the Dutch stroopwafel. So, not surprisingly, there are plenty of places to buy a stroopwafel. Visitors to the Bakery Van Vliet can even try their hand at making a stroopwafel or two.