Thousands of curious eaters annually immerse themselves in cheese at the Seattle Cheese Festival at Pike Place Market, but the event presents few opportunities for participants to explore local cheeses.
"There are only four of us here," Jess Wise of Black Sheep Creamery, a 70-sheep operation in Adna, Wash., said.
Washington cheesemakers are vastly outnumbered by exhibitors showcasing cheeses from Europe and the eastern U.S. Festivalgoers are treated to free samples of cheddar from Ireland, blue cheese from Vermont, and mozzarella from Wisconsin.
According to Wise, the expectation of giveaways may prevent some area creameries from participating. Since the festival's spring date coincides with the release of many local fresh cheeses, it makes more sense for cash-strapped cheesemakers to spend the weekend selling their products at farmer's markets.
"People are tired of giving out so much cheese," Wise says.
Wise says Black Sheep goes through about 15 pounds of cheese over the course of the festival, although it only distributes soft, spreadable cheeses: The creamery saves its aged, hard cheeses for paying customers.
Black Sheep considers the Seattle Cheese Festival a worthy investment because it gives the creamery a chance to share its cheeses with a new audience.
"It works for us," says Wise. "That's why we come."