The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in .

Icons of Holland

Cheese and Cheese Markets

‘Kaaskop’, cheesehead, is the Flemish nickname for their northern neighbours, indicating that cheese might be even more of a Dutch icon than tulips & windmills. Our cheese consumption is certainly higher than in Belgium, but our intake of roughly 20 kg per capita per annum is not enough to put us in the top five of cheese-eating countries. However, the Netherlands is irrefutably one of the top five cheese-exporting countries, and Gouda & Edam, each named after the town of its origin, are among the world’s most popular cheeses. Local residents ordinarily buy cheese at a supermarket or the weekly market, a dairy or a delicatessen, but never at a cheese market: historically, farmers sold their cheese to merchants there, and nowadays it’s where we entertain foreign visitors.

Trading at the Gouda cheese market
Trading by clapping hands at the Gouda cheese market

When I was in school, I learned that the last cheese markets in operation were the ones in Alkmaar and Woerden. That was true at the time, but three cheese markets in Edam, Gouda and Hoorn, which had been discontinued, have reopened to accommodate all the tourists. Price negotiation is done by traditional hand clapping (‘handjeklap’) everywhere, but it’s only in Alkmaar where the real action is — there, on Friday mornings, you can see cheese carriers running around, in their authentic white suits & straw hats, with wooden barrows hanging between two of them, loaded with eight Gouda cheeses weighing 13½ kg each. The season runs from April to either August or September, depending on the town; don’t expect many locals to join the fun.

Reader comments


Look at the farmer in the picture of the market in front of Gouda’s 15th-century town hall — if a contemporary Dutchman is wearing wooden shoes (‘klompen’), you know he is working in the tourist industry.


Handjeklap — Here’s how it works: I clap your hand and name my price for a kilo of cheese:  — which is understandably way too expensive for you, therefore you clap my hand and say . I clap your hand and say 6⅗, a fair price; hence you grip & shake my hand and say 6⅗ too, and it’s a done deal. Give it a try at your local supermarket, but don’t forget your wooden shoes.