The Last Commercial Farmer’s Cheese Market in the Netherlands
Woerden is a small Dutch town between Utrecht and Gouda. You may or may not have heard of its name. But Woerden is the last real farmer’s cheese market in the Netherlands – neither Gouda nor Alkmaar.
There are five cheese markets in the Netherlands: Gouda, Alkmaar, Edam, Hoorn, and Woerden. They used to be a commercial cheese market, where farmers and merchants met to deal cheese in a traditional Dutch way. (More on that later in this post.)
Nowadays, these cheese markets have become popular tourist destinations rather than functioning as a traditional commercial market once they were. So what you see in these cheese markets is more or less a re-enactment show for tourists.
From what I heard, Woerden is the last commercial cheese market to trade cheese in a traditional way. So if you care for the authentic cheese market experience, head over to Woerden. It is only a hop away from Utrecht.
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Utrecht Day Trip Series
This article is part of the Utrecht Day Trip series. Explore these charming Dutch villages from Utrecht!
- Part 1. De Haar Castle: the Largest Castle in the Netherlands
- Part 2. Woerden the "real" Farmer's Cheese Market
- Part 3. Gouda: 5 Things to Do beyond the Historic Cheese Market
- Part 4. Teahouse Rhijnauwen for Dutch Pancakes in the countryside
How to Get to Woerden from Utrecht
Take an intercity train from the Utrecht Centraal Station (€4.10). The ride takes 10 minutes only. Once you get off the train, walk towards the city center for 5 minutes.
Traveling around the Netherlands? Consider buying a city pass to save money and time. Here is a thorough comparison of 5 most popular Dutch tourist saving cards >>
Woerden Farmer’s Cheese Market
Woerden Farmer’s Cheese Market has been held since 1885. The trade is made in Dutch only.
Location: Kerkplein [Open Google Map]
Hours: Saturdays from April to August, 11-11:30 am & 12-12:30 pm
I did not know about Woerden until I stumbled up it. The Big O and I initially planned to visit Gouda from Utrecht. Due to the disruption on the railroad (and perhaps destiny), we had to detour at Woerden to take an alternative bus from Woerden to Gouda.
The kind lady at the Utrecht station also informed us of Woerden Cheese Market. And since we were there anyway, we decided to swing by.
We walked right into the city center, where the cheese market was about to kick off. The announcement was all in Dutch. We were the only two Asians – obviously signaling international tourists – who did not seem to understand what was going on.
A kind gentleman volunteered to be our local guide. He translated and explained the cheese market demonstration for us. We truly appreciated his help; otherwise, everything would have been just a guessing game.
How does the Dutch cheese market work?
Since 1885, dairy farmers have brought their cheese on a wheeled cart (“kaasbrikken”) into the city center for trade.
The Kaasbel rings to mark the opening of the cheese market.
Farmers present their cheese on a cart. Traders visit each farmer’s cart to inspect the product.
The farmer and the trader name a price and clap hands each turn until they agree on the price. The lady in traditional costume (a ringmaster) mitigates negotiation between traders and farmers.
They make a firm handclapping (“handjeklap”), which indicates trade agreement.
The trade prices, witnessed by the crowds, are bounded and written on the Kaasbel. This trade still determines the cheese prices today.
When the cheese is sold, it must be weighed on a traditional scale by the “Waagmeeser.”
By the way, before the market begins, everyone is welcome to guess how much the cheese blocks would weigh. The one who guessed the closest wins a prize at the end of the market.
The trader takes the cheese to his cheese warehouse to store and age them. Young cheese takes up to 35 days to ripe, whereas matured cheese can take up to 8 weeks to 4 months.
Generous amounts of cheese are handed out to the public for tasting after the trade. I heard that Woerden offers the most extensive and diverse cheese tasting in the county.
You can also purchase various cheese freshly made by the farmers with milk from their dairy farms. The ones you buy at a local supermarket are made in a factory.
Vacuum seals are available at no extra charge upon request. We bought 500g of truffle cheese and garlic cheese (€10.05). We carried them all over Europe until safely brought and enjoyed at home.
>> I can’t get enough cheese, can you? For a more cheesy experience, head over to the neighboring Gouda!
Woerden Hotel to Stay: Van Rossum Stadshotel Woerden
The Van Rossum Stadshotel Woerden [Book your stay here] sits in an 18th-century armory. The interior was renovated but kept the original structure, such as spiral stairs and wooden beams. The first-floor restaurant features an open kitchen. The Cafe and Bar have walls of historic photos of the town. Each room is decorated in a different theme.
What a lucky day for us. It all started with a train disruption, which unexpectedly took us to Woerden. We discovered the relatively unknown yet the only traditional cheese trade in the country! With friendly help, we left Woerden with full knowledge of the Dutch’s traditional way to trade cheese. It was as if the entire universe was moving to help us.
In fact, I encountered many kind people in the Netherlands who all extended their hands. What amazed us was that we did not even need to ask for help! During another train disruption, a passenger came out of her way to translate the announcement and took us to the changed platform. A lovely grandma outside De Haar Castle waited to ensure we got on the right bus back to Utrecht. She chit-chatted about her brand new e-bike without knowing I would ride an e-bike every day in Taiwan a couple of years later.
Their kind gestures and serendipitous encounters made us fall in love with the Netherlands. I want to express my gratitude to the Dutch who made our trip unforgettable.
Where to Go Next in the Netherlands
>> Amsterdam Itinerary for the First-time Visitors: Explore the charming, liberal Dutch capital in just 4 days
>> Rotterdam: A hip, modern city with funky architecture
>> Delft: Imbibe in artisan Delftware and Vermeer’s masterpieces like The Girl with a Pearl Earring
>> De Haar Castle: The largest castle in the Netherlands with rich history, lavish decor and well-groomed gardens
>> Utrecht: A small laidback college town in South Holland with a 2,000-year history
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