In 2006, a number of local cheese, food and wine producers congregated in a semicircle at the rear of the McLaren Vale Visitor Information Centre.
Somewhat resembling a humble school fete, they were there based on a vision that started when I travelled to Europe and discovered how cheese was uniquely celebrated in the northern hemisphere.
This celebration brought the opportunity for locals to sample a variety of cheeses and beverages all in the one space. We have witnessed CheeseFest grow from 800 attending that day to 20,000 last year. It’s an event unique in Australia, and is now a firmly entrenched festival in the South Australian psyche.
CheeseFest, which runs from Friday, October 23 to Sunday, October 25 at Rymill Park (Murlawirrapurkah), is modelled on cheese festivals held in Europe. It works here as we’ve got the weather, space, food, wine and, of course, the cheese. It is such a buzz to see so many people gather to celebrate cheese in this way. To think this began as a scribble on a napkin. The temptation to turn CheeseFest into a full-on food and wine festival has always been lurking in the wings, but I remain the ‘door bitch’ on this one and have stayed true to the original motive behind the festival: to raise awareness and offer a marketing platform for the Australian specialty cheese industry.
While maintaining a focus on cheese, we always include SA beverage makers, restaurants and plenty of entertainment. We’ve also added special venues with The Cheese Train and The Fondue Lounge. This year, we’re offering a Friday evening session for the first time.
While the elements that make up CheeseFest change from year to year, it’s really about the diversity and origin of cheese in Australia, letting people talk to the cheesemakers and illustrating the excellent quality milk we have to work with. Since the launch of CheeseFest, we’ve witnessed a huge growth in Australian cheesemakers, both here in SA and throughout the country. Many of these specialty cheeses are now available in large supermarket chains, which underline the quality and variety of the products but also the maturing of Australia’s cheese palate. I’m hopeful we’ll continue to see the breadth of cheese styles continue apace.
We haven’t seen some favourites I’ve enjoyed in Europe. But hey, give us time. This year you can look forward to a beer and cheese element as we welcome Vale Brewing as our naming rights sponsor. Brewer Jeff Wright will conduct cheese and beer masterclasses throughout the event. Beer and cheese works brilliantly together.
This year’s ambassadors are Callum Hann and Simon Bryant while Street ADL, Udaberri and The Elbow Room are some of the restaurants/bars represented over the three days.
Kris Lloyd is Woodside Cheese Wrights’ Head Cheesemaker