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Running Up That Hill… Running Up That Road… With Cheese

It’s just a theory, but it seems to me that ’80s British songstress Kate Bush might have been talking about more than the complexity of gender relations when she wrote the 1985 hit single “Running up That Hill.” I’m thinking she unwittingly penned an anthem for the Gold Hill Cheese Run of Shaftesbury, England.

What exactly is the Gold Hill Cheese Run? While the good people of Gloucestershire opt to throw themselves down Cooper’s Hill in pursuit of Double Gloucester Cheese, participants of this past Sunday’s run scramble up a treacherously steep and cobbled street hefting 14”-diameter truckles of local cheese weighing 45-55 lbs. Yeah, umm… this would be a spectator sport for me, thanks.

While this hilarious video—set to Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding on For a Hero” (competition Kate?)—makes this looks like a testosterone fest…

…don’t be fooled. Everyone gets in on this run. Even the kiddos:

After a quick double take, and then a brief spell wondering if children from Dorset are just genetically hardy beasts, I discovered that the young ’uns are, in fact, carrying fake wheels made out of polystyrene.

How did this insane tradition start? It is just one of the events comprising the Shaftesbury Food & Drink Festival, which celebrates Dorset’s local cuisine with chef demos, live music, and street entertainment. The Gold Hill Run was added in 2012—the brain child of cheesemonger and perpetual bowler-wearer Charlie Turnbull of Turnbulls, a combination cheese-shop/coffee-house/bistro. (He’s running in the video with, yep, his bowler and the “Trust Me, I’m a Cheesemonger” T-shirt.)

Turnbull got the idea for an uphill scramble from local lore about medieval cheesemakers, brewers, millers, and butchers racing to get their goods to the Abbey gates first so that they would be chosen by the Abbess for her High Table, thereby fetching the best price. Local cheese makers such as Westcombe Cheddar (which produces a hand-crafted “five mile” cheddar with notes of citrus, hazelnut, and caramel) and Quickes Cheddar (which ages its traditional, muslin-wrapped cheddars from 3 to 24 months) have supplied cheese for the race. First participants must lug the truckles down the hill to the start line, then they have to run like the devil, either clutching them to their chests or awkwardly out to one side. The winner gets a cheese prize as well as a crown.

So who was crowned “King of the Hill” this year? That would be Barnaby Cox (sounds a bit like a Scooby Doo villain, heh?), a veteran speed (cheese) racer and three-time winner at the ripe old age of 18. He’s the current record-holder, clocking in at an astoundingly nimble 18 seconds. As Barnaby told BBC News, he attributes his success to “technique and power.” I guess so!

Fortunately, Cox’s winning streak was not derailed by weather, which resulted in the cancellation of one of the four heats. As Turnbull told BBC News, “With 25 kilos of cheese you don’t want to be messing around.”

For more information on the festival and its zany cheese race, check out the event’s website!

Johnisha Levi

Johnisha Levi is a Boston-area pastry cook and one of those very rare (think Pegasus) D.C. natives. If ithere's a documentary on food or true crime, chances are that she's seen it (or it's waiting in her Netflix queue). She's a culinary history nerd who is eager to spend her summer at culture learning more about cheese.

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