The History of cheesemaking in North-Holland and the development of the Cheese markets
The province of North Holland that surrounds the Beemster polder once was a very uninhabitable region full of marshes and bogs. When the first inhabitants started to drain these marshes, about 1000 years ago they could not use the soil for growing crops as it was far too wet. Therefore, their careers focused on dairy farming.
In the last stage of the Middle Ages the production of milk was already more than the population needed. This prompted the farmers to start selling their extra products to other regions. These products included milk, butter and of course cheese.
In the 14th century several cheesemarkets emerged where farmers could trade their cheeses. These cheesemarkets were founded in major towns and villages. This was a two-way system. The farmers found a place to customers for their products and the city that organized the cheesemarket received duties on the weighing of the cheese in the ‘weighhouses’ and also attracted more commercial traffic, which helped the city’s economy grow.
The oldest cheesemarkets in North- Holland are: Haarlem established in 1266, Amsterdam established in 1376, Leiden established in 1303, and of course the world famous and still existing cheesemarket of Alkmaar operating since 1365.
This last cheesemarket is still in operation with the fellowship of cheese carriers carrying the cheese to the weighhouse with their bright
colored hats on wooden “berries.”
No real trade takes place at cheesemarkets anymore since all cheese are sold directly to wholesalers, but this historic markets reflects the way in which cheese was supplied to customers all over the globe for centuries.