Friday, 13 May 2011

The running of the cheese

I have never made it to Pamplona in Spain for the Running of the Bulls, nor to Bunol in Spain for La Tomatilla, the worlds biggest food fight, commonly referred to as the "running of the tomatoes." But today, I made it to Alkmaar, home of the running of the cheese.

For the last 400 years, they have bought and sold cheese here in the main market square. Given that I saw no Safeway rep, I'm thinking it's a dying art, and in fact, mostly they do the traditional 400 year old cheese trading thing for the tourists. Fine with me. I like cheese, and it was fun to watch, at least for the first hour or so.

The morning starts by laying out wheel upon wheel of Gouda in the square.
Cheese lined up in front of the church/cheese market hall
There's a lot of cheese here
Each wheel weighs 15-30 kg

A very eccentric set of stuff happens, including regulatory officials checking the quality of the cheese.
Inspecting the goods
A demonstration of the sampling technique
Then a mystic system of hand claps results in merchants buying cheese for a given price per kilo. All this cheese needs to move to the weigh house, then to the carts to move it away. Enter the Cheese Runners. They have a union (okay, it's a guild, and it's also like 400 years old). They carry the cheese, 8 wheels at a time, to the weigh house then to the carts that take it away (presumably to Safeway). There are four cheese buying groups, and each has a colour (yellow, red, blue and green). 
Runners of the Yellow team.
Runners of the Blue and Green Teams. Don't ask me why the Green guys are carrying a Red sled
Red dudes, red sled
Don't let me belittle what these guys do. That's 8 wheels at 20 kg per wheel = 160 kg = 352 lbs of cheese, plus the weight of the wooden sleds. Each guy is hoisting probably 200 lbs, and after watching them for 90 min of their 3 hr shift, I can tell you this is work. And they run (okay, they jog). Try picking up 200 lbs and jogging. See how you do. Yes, there is holes in the cheese...
...but I don't think that helps.

They haul the cheese to the weigh house...
16 wheels per weigh in
...where they weigh it on the most modern of scales.
You would think something new would work better
While the running of the cheese was fun, Alkmaar itself isn't that much of a thrill. It has nice little canals, with drawbridges that actually work.
Waiting for the grand opening

Clear to pass
It has warped and leaning buildings.
Leaning to the right
Generally bent
It has a rather imposing gothic church.
A kerk. Probably an Olde Kerk

But it has a real windmill. I'm not sure it's still used for what it was when it was built, but it's pretty nice nonetheless.

Did I mention it was original?
Older than me, which is saying something
Alkmaar is a nice day trip on a Friday when you can see the running of the cheese. Other than that, I'm not sure it's worth it.

By the way, the do give out samples of the cheese, and it's just outstanding stuff.

1 comment:

thelma said...

mmmmm Kaas!!!! Have you had the opportunity to try the kruit kaas? (spiced cheese) I don't know if it runs or not but it would be worth chasing too. Enjoy.