In the Middle Ages, it was customary to establish a guild for each profession. The founding date of the Alkmaar Cheese Carriers' Guild is 17 June 1593. The cheese carrier guild consists of 28 men plus the cheese father and a cheese carrier can hold various positions. In 1365, the town owns one cheese scale, by 1612 there are four....The cheese carriers' guild.
The Guild's vemen
Within the cheese carrier guild, four groups are active, so-called 'vemen'. Each vem has its own colour, namely red, green, blue and yellow, and consists of six cheese carriers and a bagman. The colours are reflected in the cheese carriers' straw hats, their bow tie, and the colour of the berrie.
Only overmen and the servant wear a bow tie. Their attire otherwise consists of an authentic white suit. The cheese father heads the four vemen. He can be recognised by his orange hat and his cane. The cheese carriers call him 'father'.
Each livestock has its own scale during the market, with the 'tasman' standing by to put the weights on the scale. At the market, three vemen operate. So every week, one livestock is 'free' and the cheese carriers of this livestock have 'trolley duty'. They fill the absences in the other vemen.
Before the first cheese market of the season, the overseers play dice. The winning cattle may choose which part of the market they want to work in and choose a scale, then this rotates per market. There used to be a fifth, orange livestock and there were also five scales in use.
Traditions, customs and habits
The cheese carriers are men who do like a bit of tradition. There are even by-laws stating how they are supposed to behave. Some nice customs and traditions are described below.
Each cheese carrier, when appointed from emergency to cheese carrier, is given a nickname. For instance, we have 'the interpreter' who speaks his languages well, 'the valve' who, besides being a huge chatterbox, also does some engine overhaul. 'Forget me not' is a bit forgetful and 'the drinker' is responsible for the beer tapping after the market.
Earlier, we told you that cheese carriers have to pay a fine if they are late. The nickname of the cheese carrier who collects the fines is, quite appropriately, 'the Executioner'. Part of the money collected is used to sponsor a school in the small town of 'Alkmaar' in Suriname. The other part is for the 'crumb night'. Following tradition, the men gather on the Friday before Christmas for their reward. This consists of €5 'wages' for the cheese carrier, two filled cakes for mother the wife to thank her for keeping her husband's costume pearly white and a white bread with butter and cheese for the children.
Fighting, smoking and drinking alcohol are strictly forbidden during the cheese market. Men are also not allowed to swear if anything goes wrong. If someone falls, or the cheeses fall off the berrie while walking, instead of swearing they always use the word 'owl'!
If the cheese father forgets his stick or hat, the cheese carriers call after him: 'Father you are walking naked'.
All cheese carriers must be present in the cheese carrier's room at Waagplein at 7.00 in the morning. Those who are late will be listed on the 'blackboard' and pay a fine. The money is collected by the 'Provost'.
At 9.45 am, the cheese father holds a talk in the cheese carrier's room for the cheese carriers.
In it, he tells how many tonnes of cheese are on the market and whether any important guests, journalists or TV crews will be present. He takes stock of whether the Guild is complete or if there are any sick people. The cheese father, also Market Master, also classifies the vemen at the market, i.e. which group of cheese carriers works in which part of the market.