In the Middle Ages, it was common practice to establish a guild for every professional group, the cheese carriers established theirs in 1593. The cheese carriers’ guild consists of 30 men and the cheese father. Carriers can hold various positions.
Four groups, the so-called forwarding companies, are active in the guild, each of them having their own particular colour: red, green, blue, and yellow, and consisting of 6 cheese carriers and a tasman. The colours are also seen in the cheese carriers’ straw hats, bow ties, and barrows.
Overmannen (foremen) and their servants are the only ones wearing bow ties and are dressed in an authentic white suit. The cheese father is the head of the four forwarding companies and can be recognised by his orange hat and cane. Cheese carriers refer to him as “dad”.
Each forwarding company has their own scales (rotating weekly); the “tasman” is standing next to it to put the weights on the scales. Three forwarding companies are active on the market, meaning that one forwarding company is “free”, the men of which have “karredienst” (cart service).
They help the ingooiers and take the place of the absentees of other forwarding companies. The forwarding companies play dice prior to the first cheese market of the season.
The winning forwarding company can choose their spot on the market and choose the scales, which is then rotated. There used to be a fifth, orange forwarding company and five scales.
The cheese men are men of tradition. There are even household regulations prescribing how people working on the market are expected to behave. A few nice customs and traditions are described below.
When promoted from reserve to cheese bearer, every man is given a nickname. For example, we have 'the interpreter' who speaks languages very well; 'the valve' who besides from being a huge chatterbox also reconditions engines; 'forget-me-not' who is a bit forgetful; and 'the drinks' who is responsible for the beer that is tapped after the market has finished.
As previously explained, cheese bearers are required to pay a fine for being late. The nickname of the cheese bearer who collects the fines is very fittingly 'the executioner’. Part of the money collected in fines is used by the guild to sponsor a school in the small city of Alkmaar in Surinam. The remainder goes to the guild.
In line with tradition, the men get together on the Friday before Christmas to receive payment. This consists of €5 'wages' for the cheese bearer, two almond paste cakes for the wife to thank her for keeping her husband's outfit snow white, and a white loaf of bread with some butter and cheese for the children.
Fighting, smoking, and drinking is strictly forbidden during the cheese market. It is also forbidden to curse. If a cheese rolls off the barrow while walking, cheese carriers do not swear but instead call “owl”!
If the cheese bearer forgets his stick or hat the cheese bearers call after him: 'Father, you're naked'.
Puts the cheese from the lorries on the market early in the morning, and loads the barrows. They are dressed in black trousers and a blue shirt.
When the cheeses are weighed, the ingooiers toss them from the barrows in wood handcarts and take them to the lorries. They are recognised by their black trousers and light fawn shirts.
Before becoming a cheese carrier, one must be a temporary worker for two years before being able to join the guild. The cheese father and overman decide on this, and the cheese carrier is given a nickname.
An experienced cheese carrier working for one of the forwarding companies.
The tasman is recognised by a black leather purse around his waist, and stands at the scales. Bills used to be settled with him. He checkmarks the cheeses after weighing them. The tasman has been in service for the longest.
A “voorman” is the head of a forwarding company, and the oldest member. Also referred to as “overman”. Every two years, an overman is selected from the forwarding company. He has a silver sign with a ribbon in his company’s colour.
This is the head of the four forwarding companies, is recognised by an orange hat, black cane with silver mountings, and the Alkmaar coat of arms on his chest.
The cheese father’s help who keeps the toilets and waaggebouw’s step clean. Responsible for hanging the bell and polishing the brass twice a year. He carries a special shield of a barrow with a silver tie. This post is fulfilled by an annually changing cheese carrier, voormannen excluded.
Tends to the inner man and is responsible for the drinks.
Is responsible for collecting the fines cheese carriers have to pay for being late, and records them on the stocks. He also carries a special shield depicting a barrow with a narrow toe above it. His nickname is “the headsman”.
The Cheesemaid’s job is to promote cheese and the Cheese Market. The idea came from the Dutch Dairy Board, who are responsible for the promotion of Dutch cheese at home and abroad. There are always at least two Cheesemaids in attendance at the Alkmaar Cheese Market. They sell the "Kaasexpres" magazine and sometimes pose in photographs with tourists. A logo was designed especially for this, depicting a girl in traditional costume. The girl in this costume was also used in real life.
From 1961, she was named Frau Antje in Germany. From that day on, Frau Antje has been a celebrity, appearing in advertising campaigns and at important events.