The small Washington Artisan Cheesemakers Festival, which debuted this spring at the Seattle Design Center, could acquire increased local importance with the cancellation of the popular Seattle Cheese Festival.
"It's kind of the logical "replacement", if you will," writes Tami Parr, a cheese blogger and author of Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest. "It's a little different in that it focuses exclusively on artisan cheesemakers, charges an entry fee, etc. Perhaps for this sort of thing, that's the way to go."
According to a farewell message posted this week by festival founder Pat McCarthy of DeLaurenti Food & Wine, the eight-year old festival was done in by its massive size. The Pike Place Market festival regularly attracted 35,000 visitors over its weekend run, a number which many cheese sellers found overwhelming.
"Over the last couple of years, the festival has become kind of like Yogi Berra's quote, 'Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded.'," McCarthy wrote. "Attendance by cheese makers and distributors has fallen off sharply."
Reached by phone, McCarthy -- who prefers to characterize the termination as a "sunsetting" -- said recent festivals were comparable "to a wine garden kind of thing."
"A lot of the cheesemakers wouldn't or didn't come," he says. "And, frankly, DeLaurenti wasn't getting too much exposure."
Parr adds, "There was a level of chaos to it that made it hard for those that were taking part. I've heard stories about people stealing wheels of cheese during the festival."
As Voracious reported last year, attendees' expectations of free samples discouraged small dairies from participating in the program. Jess Wise of Black Sheep Creamery, a 70-sheep operation that was one of four in-state operations at the 2011 festival, said, "People are tired of giving out so much cheese."
Parr believes the festival was the first major cheese event on the west coast: "It sprung up at a time that cheese, especially artisan cheese, was starting to get really big," she recalls. "So it was fun and exciting at a time when the artisan cheese movement was coming into its own."
One of the most valuable components of the annual festival was the line-up of educational seminars.: Parr especially enjoyed a presentation by Noella Marcellino, known as The Cheese Nun.
Whether through formal seminars or informal samplings, the festival was successful in raising the general level of cheese knowledge and appreciation, which may help explain why distributors and cheese makers no longer felt compelled to show up at the festival.
"Cheese has become part of the culinary nomenclature of Seattle," McCarthy said.