Twelve Favorite Cheese Festivals
Here's a very encouraging fact; the number of cheese festivals is on the increase. How do I know this? Simple. Because my calendar, which in previous years resembled a cheese "social desert", is now chocka-full of cheese-related events - especially during the summer months.
Cheese Festivals come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from the most traditional, centuries-old institutions, to newly formed events launched for the first time in 2011. Either way, each are more than worthy of your support and you're guaranteed to come away richer (and fuller) for the experience.
Here, in no order of preference, is a personal round-up of those certain to make it onto my calendar. I have divided them geographically into North American and overseas.
Reflecting America’s rapidly expanding artisan and farmstead cheese scene, regional festivals have been springing up all around the US. Many are organized by regional Cheesemaker Guilds and all are open to the public. In addition, Canada's first national cheese festival was launched in 2011 and was a resounding success.
American Cheese Society Conference
The location of this annual national conference changes each year. A milestone was reached in 2011 when Canada hosted the first ever conference to take place outside the United States in Montreal. Although the main part of the conference is structured towards industry professionals with seminars and workshops taking place, there is also a well subscribed cheese competition (entries in 2011 numbered over 1700 cheeses) culminating in the Festival of Cheese, a ticketed event that is open to the public.
The 2012 conference will be taking place in Raleigh, North Carolina, August 1-4, 2012.
Also, check out culture’s annual Guide to the American Cheese Society conference.
California Artisan Cheese Festival
Held each year in Petaluma, about one hour north of San Francisco, this was one of the first regional cheese festivals to be established. The event takes place over two days, with one day devoted to seminars and workshops and the other to a very popular producer market. With exhibitors ranging from cheesemakers, wineries, breweries and other artisan food producers, its easy to see why this event features high on many people’s lists.
Canadian Cheese Festival
This festival took was held for the first time in 2011 and was a resounding success. Events include cheese tours of local creameries, an Artisan Food Fair, tutored tastings and demonstrations together with a healthy dose of beer and wine vendors in the mix. The date for 2012 is already set – June 1-3.
Oregon Cheese Festival
Organized by the small yet vibrant Oregon Cheese Guild, 2012 will see this festival’s 8th year and reflects the growing number of excellent smaller scale cheesemakers in the state. Sat March 17th 2012 at Rogue Creamery, 311 N Front Street, Central Point. Don't miss it!
Pastoral Artisan Cheese Festival (Chicago)
Held for the first time in 2011, this event was a huge success right out of the gate featuring well over 25 different artisan food producers from the mid west and beyond. According to Greg O’Neill, co-owner of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine, the festival is already scheduled to take place again in April 2012. Check the website for further details.
Seattle Cheese Festival
This incredibly popular festival takes place in May each year within Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market. There is no entry fee to get in so the crowds are big and hungry but the atmosphere is great. Sharpen your elbows to get close to the vendors!
Southern Cheese Festival
Held for the first time in 2011, the Southern Cheese Festival took place in September at the Nashville Farmers market. The event was a huge success, reflecting the rapidly growing number of cheesemakers in the southern states and the welcome their products are receiving.
Vermont Cheesemakers Festival
This hugely popular event, held each year at Shelburne Farms on the shores of Lake Champlain, is always sold out well beforehand. Vermont has an unusually rich array of cheesemakers and small scale food producers, most of which are regular vendors here. Be sure to get your tickets well in advance as numbers are strictly limited - making this an even more enjoyable experience.
Wisconsin Artisan Cheese Festival
Located in Madison, WI, this event, masterminded by cheese whiz Jeanne Carpenter, is in its fourth year. With one day of workshops and seminars followed by a day long cheese and artisan food market, this is a must for any cheese enthusiast located in the Mid West.
Slow Food Cheese Festival, Bra, Italy.
Held every two years (odd numbers), this spectacular four day event takes place within the streets and historic buildings of the town of Bra in Piedmont, which is also where Slow Food HQ is permanently based. The main attractions are the dozens of cheese vendors lining the streets, some of them with rare and endangered varieties of cheese rarely seen outside their own regions. Want to try "Cheese in a Sack" from Bosnia Herzegovina or Pokot Ash Yogurt from Kenya? This is your chance since many of the producers are members of the Slow Food Presidia, which was established to protect the unique cultural heritage associated with these producers.
In addition, there are many other cheese producers selling "non-endangered" but still wonderful cheeses from across many continents.
Since the vendors line the streets of Bra, there is no fee for entry to the event, although if you're interested in attending the many classes and workshops
these need to be booked ahead via the website and a charge is applicable. Since accommodation becomes scarce as the Festival draws near, its advisable to reserve this well in advance too.
Lactium, Catalonia, Spain.
The town of Vic has a long tradition of farming and producing artisan food, but it has also embraced modern techniques, culture and gastronomy which makes it an ideal host-town for this event.
The festival includes activities ranging from forums, demonstrations of the use of traditional cheese-making equipment, tastings and cheese-based cooking classes, as well as a market for buying. The wealth of artisan, small production Catalan cheeses is surprisingly diverse with many of the producers still using traditional methods, local breeds of sheep and goat as well as some cows milk cheeses.
Located in the historic center of Vic, Lactium’s third year saw more than 150 local cheeses in 14 different categories ranging from fresh to blue cheeses competing for Lactium Gold, Silver and Bronze medals.
Elaine was fortunate enough to attend this event in 2011. You can read about it here:
Great British Cheese Festival
Held towards the end of September each year against the backdrop of Cardiff Castle in Wales, this event sees many of Britain's best artisanal cheesemakers in attendance, selling their cheeses as well as a focus on cheese education, fun and games. Events include a cheese market, cheese masterclasses, World Cheese Tossing Championships, Cheese Skittles, two mobile pubs plus a whole lot more. Cheers!
Latxa Sheep Cheese Contest, Ordizia, Spain.
Basque festivities in Ordizia ran this year from September 3-11. People take Ordizia very seriously as there are annual competitions for cheese, livestock, fruit, vegetables, Basque hens and perretxikos, which is the local term for wild mushrooms. The highlight of the day is the Latxa sheep’s cheese contest. This year, the winning cheese was auctioned and almost reached an astounding €7,000
Click here for a good article in the UK Financial Times about other European food festivals.