Film of the annual event in England that is a 200-year-old tradition, through which hundreds of contestants race down a steep hill after a wheel of hard cheese, has become a standard clip for local newscasts around the world. They know it’s hard for even the grumpiest of viewers to resist smiling over the silliness of people hurtling (and often incurring significant bodily harm) after an object of such little value that can be rolling at a speed of 70 mph by the time it reaches the bottom of the hill.
In Macungie, Pa., the organizers of the first Cheese, Garlic and Folk Festival held at the Bear Creek Mountain Resort and Conference Center felt their event would be a natural place to bring smiles to this side of the Atlantic, through a cheese rolling of their own. The resort partnered with a local FM radio station to hold a cheese chase, rain or shine, down a bank above a pond on the property.
Tickets to participate were sold for $8 in advance (through a link on the resort’s website) or $10 on the day of the event. Participants had to be at least 18 years old to take part in the cheese roll, and were required to sign a liability release.
Buying a ticket also earned admission to all other events planned for the festival (which ran from 11 AM to 5 PM on Sunday, September 11, and included prizes given to those who dressed in the best garlic- or cheese-themed costumes). Festival tickets were also sold for children for $3 in advance, or $5 on the day of the festival, with no charge for children under 5.
The resort also arranged for local cheese and garlic vendors to set up shop on the Bear Creek grounds, and for cheese and garlic pairings to be sampled and sold, as well as cheese and garlic-themed merchandise. James Lund, a chef at the resort, got into the spirit of the day by cooking up a variety of garlic-flavored items, including bratwurst, hamburgers, pickles and olives.
Live folk music was provided and other attractions included a cheese-and-garlic appetizer contest, a magic show, storytelling, face-painting, a petting zoo and horse-drawn carriage rides. A “trackless train” (oil drums with “seats” cut out for kids, painted to look like NASCAR cars and pulled by a tractor) also proved to be a big hit.
Not surprisingly, though, the cheese-rolling contest proved to be the day’s biggest draw. While the embankment used was not nearly as long or steep as the one where the original contest in England is held, it did present a distinctively new challenge to contestants, after it splashed into the pond at the bottom. But that didn’t stop the eventual winners in either of the two race “heats” (for those over and under 30 years old) that were held—in both cases, there was no hesitation to dive in to claim the prize.
Overall, over 500 people came to the festival, the majority of whom were attracted to show up on the day of the event, despite overcast and occasionally rainy conditions. “We were a little unsure of what to expect in the way of attendance—it’s always a challenge to get the word out the first year of an event,” said the resort’s Event Manager, Gary Kline. “But we were lucky that we had some great vendors with a lot to offer, and to get over 500 people out in the first year, we were pleased and felt it was pretty successful.”careers