Ten Fantastic Cheese Festivals
One of the most endearing qualities about artisan cheesemakers is their desire to watch you taste their handcrafted products so that they can see your eyes light up. Festivals (and frequently, farmers’ markets) are the best way to make this connection between producer and consumer.
Cheese festivals are held all over the world, but here are ten great, public cheese festivals. Visit Culture Magazine's the word on cheese to find a listing of cheesy gatherings worldwide.
The Festival of Cheese, American Cheese Society: The big wheel of U.S. cheese festivals, the ACS Annual Conference boasts educational seminars for cheesemakers and aficionados alike. You can choose tasting or pairing seminars, or spend an afternoon making cheese with an expert. Throughout is a rigorous competition featuring over 1,500 cheese entries in more than 100 categories. On the final evening the event opens to the public for a fee; every single entry is portioned and plated so you can dive in for a sample, making for a stunning display of dairy decadence. This festival takes place in August, and its location changes annually.
California Artisan Cheese Festival: What better place for a cheese festival than wine country? The California Artisan Cheese Festival happens every March in Petaluma (about 40 minutes north of San Francisco). Sign up early to get in on local creamery tours, cheese-centric dinners, and educational seminars.
Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival: Vermont is America’s top cheesemaking state per capita, which makes this festival the ideal place for caseophiles to mingle with cheesemakers. Held each July at historic Shelburne Farms on the shores of Lake Champlain, festival highlights include regional food and wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, seminars, and a whole lot of cheese. Think of this as the cheesemaker’s cheese festival.
Oregon Cheese Festival: This beloved local festival features dozens of cheese-, beer-, and winemakers. General admission is minimal, the sampling is free, and the makers sell their products at great prices. The festival is held at Rogue Creamery in Southern Oregon and has a farmers’ market vibe. Events include a Meet the Cheesemakers dinner (held the night before), seminars, and tastings, including chocolate and cider.
Great British Cheese Festival: The United Kingdom loves its cheese, as Britain’s Biggest Cheese Market can attest. Over 400 cheeses made from cow, goat, sheep, and water buffalo milk are accompanied by artisan wine, beer, cider, and perry (a fermented beverage made from pears), and the people who produce them. The event is held in late September, and locations vary.
Bra Cheese Festival: The most nostalgic and romantic of cheese festivals, the biennial Bra Cheese Festival attracts cheese lovers and professionals from all over the world. Held every other September outside of Turin in Piedmont, Italy, the events include a Cheese Market; a wine bar featuring DIY cheese plates; a pizza piazza; and workshops, special dinners, and tastings. With a massive array of artisanal cheeses, including ones rarely found outside of their villages of origin and 700 wines, this is a truly special event worth the plane ticket.
Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival: The great cheese state of Wisconsin holds one heck of a cheese festival. On the first weekend of June, cheese fans descend upon the town of Little Chute. This family-friendly event offers three days of music, a parade, tastings, cheese carving demonstrations, cheesecake contests, cheese curd-eating contests, and a carnival (stay off the rides if you’ve been competing for the cheese curd-eating title).
The Great Canadian Cheese Festival: Canada has quietly been producing phenomenal artisan cheeses for decades, and now this festival calls attention to that fact. First held in 2010, this June celebration is held in Prince Edward County, Ontario, an up-and-coming culinary destination and Canada’s newest wine region. Events include cheese tasting seminars, cheese tours (sign up early; they sell out weeks ahead), and a celebrity chef gala featuring pairings with Ontario wine and craft beer.
Seattle Cheese Festival: Every May, Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market becomes a Pacific Northwest and imported cheese fest, with stalls set up along the cobbled streets. The event is free and draws cheese-loving crowds ready to sample and purchase their favorites. The festival also conducts ongoing seminars (advanced sign-up required) and chef demonstrations. The event is held rain or shine . . . and this being Seattle, be prepared for the former. Don’t worry; the views of Elliot Bay and Puget Sound are still stunning when wet.
Amish Country Cheese Festival: This Illinois festival takes place on Labor Day weekend and offers more than just cheese. Expect traditional Amish foods and handicrafts, a farm shop, a parade, a tractor pull, and the International Cheese Curling Championships (as in the Olympic event, only using a four-pound cheese stone). Because the family that throws cheese together. . . .