More tastings, more cheese, more fun
By Sarah Nigbor
ELLSWORTH – Prepare your taste buds for the 21st annual Cheese Curd Festival, slated for June 24-25 in Ellsworth’s East End Park. The event returns in-person after two years of drive-thru festivals, thanks to the pandemic.
“We’re looking forward to once again hosting the big cheese curd party festival fans have grown to love,” said event co-coordinator Kim Beebe.
Ramping up for the complete, in-person event has been a challenge, Beebe admitted. The last in-person event (in 2019) ran like a well-oiled machine.
“We’re sifting through old meeting minutes, emails and notes to be sure we aren’t missing any details,” Beebe said. “Still, we’re excited to see the event become what it once was and we hope fans and friends of the festival are excited too.”
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The Cheese Curd Festival will be held 4-10 p.m. Friday, June 24 and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 25 in East End Park, extending all the way to the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery (232 N. Wallace St.) Beebe describes the event as part food and beer celebration and part music festival.
“Attendees will get their fill of hand-battered deep-fried cheese curds and curd-infused dishes, along with craft beer, regional wines, and hard ciders,” she said. “To top it all ou, an eclectic mix of music and interactive tasting events create a unique experience for adults and kids, alike.”
The namesake star food will be cheese curds, of course. Each year the festival committee chooses a signature cheese curd flavor to highlight, in addition to the creamery’s natural white cheddar cheese curds. This year’s feature will be pizza-flavored deep fried curds served with marinara sauce for dipping.
“Pizza was the flavor we had selected for 2020’s festival … then you know what happened!” Beebe said. “We did serve them up at the drive-thru event that year and everyone raved about them. We decided they deserved a true in-person performance at this year’s event! For dessert, we’ll also be deep-frying the Cinnamon Sugar cheese curds that are exclusive to the Cheese Curd Festival!”
Tantalize your taste buds
Twenty food vendors will be at this year’s event, lined up along Food Truck Alley on Wall Street. Some vendors you may recognize include The Big Cheese, Smokey Treats BBQ, The Original Minneapple Pie, and several other regulars. Some new trucks joining the fun this year include Chef Shack, Que Viet Concessions, Wok this Way, Royal Kettle Corn, and more. Each vendor will serve at least two creative cheese curd dishes. Attendees have the opportunity to vote for “Best of the Festival” and “People’s Choice” awards during the event.
“We’re also bringing back the special tasting events that have make the Cheese Curd Festival experience unique,” Beebe promised. “Even with all the food vendors it seems attendees still want more – more creative cheese curd dishes and opportunities to taste the festival’s signature foods. Events, such as the ‘Corks & Kegs’ happy hour and ‘Craft & Curd: Paired’ continue to grow in popularity.”
Corks & Kegs: This popular event is a happy hour like no other. Guests compare tasting notes for over 40 craft beers, wines, and hard ciders from the Midwest, many from within a 40-mile radius of the festival. Each guest leaves with a souvenir tasting glass.
Craft & Curd: Paired. For this tasting experience six regional breweries battle it out for best brew and cheese curd flavor pairing with festival attendees being given the opportunity to sample and vote on their favorite combination. The brew masters worked with Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery to create their curd flavors to pair with their favorite craft brews. Attendees will vote for their favorite flavor combo and the winning brewery will reign supreme until next year’s event!
Cheese Block Party: We’re also excited to bring back the Block Party, the largest cheese tasting in the region! During this tasting event, attendees will take a delicious trip around the state sampling unique Wisconsin cheeses, each with their own claim to fame. The spiciest cheeses in Wisconsin, aged cheeses, smelly cheeses, Wisconsin’s perfect pairings, and a variety of cheese curd flavors will all be available for tasting at the event.
There will also be two family-friendly tastings, the Milk & Cookie Pairing and the Ice Cream Tasting. Tickets for these events will be available at the festival prior to each event.
Space is limited for the Corks & Kegs, Craft & Curd: Paired, and the Wisconsin Cheese Block Party events. Tickets are available for advance purchase, as well as at the festival (while space remains).
Music galore Cheese Curd Festival also features many popular regional musical acts, ranging from solo acoustic country and 50s and 60s rock to bands playing blues, jazz and soulful genres. A continuous stream of music will be ouered, with stages on the east and west sides of the park, plus a third more intimate music venue on Broadway Street.
Reverend Raven and The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys, featuring Westside Andy on harmonica, will be performing their Chicago- style blues. Winter Dance Party, a Buddy Holly Tribute Band, will recreate the story of the ill-fated night that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper performed at The Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. You’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back in time, Beebe said. Popular regional performers, including Jim Stairs and Squishy Mud, The Average Janes, Johnny O & Fillet O Soul, Sarah VanValkenburg, Lisa Wenger, Kevin Lombardo, and Brooke Elizabeth will also perform.
A well-rounded experience
The Festival Market will fill Broadway Street with regional specialties and locally handmade and handcrafted goods. A great way to support local small businesses, the market ouers something for everyone.
The 5 and 10K run, and classic car show ouer additional interactive family-friendly fun and experiences. In staying true to the area’s agricultural roots, a corn dig and straw bale playland give the kids plenty of opportunity to burn ou some energy after the Milk and Cookie Pairing and Ice Cream Tasting. And the festival wouldn’t be complete without the Cheese Curd Eating Contest. Compete as an individual or a two-person team, or join in the fun as a spectator. Contestants will compete for cash, prizes, and bragging rights.
Admission to the Cheese Curd Festival is free, with tickets required for special tasting events. Parking and shuttle service for festival attendees is also free. Watch for signs to guide you to the ovcial Cheese Curd Festival parking lots. A continuous stream of shuttle buses will have guests from their vehicles to the festival grounds within minutes.
Find a complete event schedule, tasting event ticket information, and directions at CheeseCurdFestival.com, and breaking festival news and announcements on Facebook at fb.com/CheeseCurdFestival.