Picking the Perfect Cheese Festival
Written by Lassa Skinner
Cheese festivals, events and conferences take place around the country throughout the year, though right now through late summer is the most popular time for them to take place. They may seem to be the same in what they offer, but each one has a different feel from the other--and different things going on. Depending on your interests, take a minute to read the details and make sure it'll fit what you're hoping to get out of it.
Some of the cheese festivals are more food- and beverage-related and less about "meet the cheesemaker," which means (for those who are keen to talk one on one with cheesemakers and buy their handiwork directly from them) that there may be more chefs than makers onsite. Though delicious, it could be disappointing if that's not what you're hoping for. If you are a hobbyist cheesemaker, then attending a large event with cheesemakers and artisan food producers could be great to see what's out there but not the one-on-one time that you'd like. So a smaller, more private gathering (a local cheese guild event, for example) would fit the bill better. That said, there are often break-out classes in an adjoining location at many of the larger festivals that are smaller and led by cheesemakers or cheese professional that range from cheesemaking to Cheese 101 or Cheese & Beer Pairing, so that might fit the bill.
For example, the upcoming Oregon Cheese Festival in Central Point, OR on Saturday, March 15, 2013 is a massive fiesta of regional cheeses served mostly by the cheesemaker as well as a hefty percentage of regional wines and beers, set up in farmers market setting. It's busy, though, so one-on-one time with the cheesemakers isn't going to happen. There are concurrent seminars next door, though making cheese itself isn't on the docket. This is a festival to come see the bounty of artisan cheesemaking in Oregon and really indulge in a cheese-centric (and wine- & beer-laden) fiesta.
Alternatively, there is the weekend-long California Artisan Cheese Festival in Petaluma, CA from Friday to Sunday, March 22-24, 2013 has farm tours on one day, a slew of seminars on Saturday (including beginning cheesemaking classes), and a farmers market style marketplace on Sunday that, like the Oregon Cheese Festival, is boisterous and busy. So choose you can really choose your day & event carefully based on what you want.
And there are far, far more in almost every part of the country. I'm not saying that every cheese-centric event doesn't have its place in the larger picture, but because we all have different interests, this is just an advisory note. My advise is to ask at your favorite cheese shop about cheese-related events or festivals near you, or look online for a cheese guild in your state or area. They are often involved if not running them. And if you're thinking of attending something in your local area or beyond, feel free to send us a query at monger at culturecheesemag dot com and we'll do our best to tell you the details of all that specific cheese event offers. You'll always have a good time, so there's not far you can go wrong. But each event has its own tenor, so we want you to be pleased with the sound--and cheese, and experience--in every way.