After a rocky start in 2012, marked by long lines and unhappy ticket holders, the Minnesota Cheese Festival hit its stride in year three. The fromage-filled fest took over the International Bazaar at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on Sunday and delighted cheese-lovers with cooking demonstrations and samples of local foods, beer and wine, and, of course, regional cheeses.
Last year, the festival took place over the course of two days in September. This year organizers consolidated the event into one day, separated into two sessions, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. They also moved the event from September to May, and while we all know the fickle nature of spring weather, organizers and festival-goers were rewarded with sunny skies and warm temperatures.
The 18 participating cheese-makers included established favorites such as the Caves of Faribault serving samples of the famous AmaBlu as well as upstarts like Redhead Creamery from Brooten, Minnesota, with their flagship ash-rubbed cheddar. Sartori from Plymouth, Wisconsin, stood out with a line of extra-aged Parmesan and goat cheeses, rich with crunchy tyrosine crystals and, in the case of one of our favorite samples, washed in Merlot. Singing Hills Goat Dairy in Nerstrand, Minnesota, shared spreadable goat cheeses, including a marinated herb chèvre.
In addition to the ample cheese sampling, attendees enjoyed treats from Groveland Confections, coffee from Sweetwater Roasters, crackers dressed with cream cheese and Pam's Pepper Jam, flavored honey sticks from Bare Honey, and more. With live blues and bluegrass music in the background, those interested in learning how to pair wine or beer with cheese got the inside scoop from Patrick Moore, the Cheese Guy, as well as sommelier and consultant Leslee Miller of Amusée and beer connoisseur Michel Agnew of A Perfect Pint. Demonstrations on cooking with cheese and home cheese-making rounded out the educational portion of the day's events.Though we were a little worried we'd be cheesed out by the end of the morning session of Minnesota Cheese Fest, we find ourselves already gearing up for next year's event and stocking our fridge with new favorites. To keep up with the Minnesota Cheese Festival or for more information on participating cheese-makers and dairies, visit the MN Cheese Fest website.