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The “Keep Cheese Alive” Initiative

Today, mindful of how its vendors are struggling as we all hunker down and stay home, the Little Falls Cheese Festival has launched something to help. They ask everyone to consider shopping with their vendors now.

Instead of or in addition to foraying out occasionally to the local markets, they are urging people to shop with small producers and “KEEP CHEESE ALIVE.” As anyone who’s gone to the Festival knows, it is a diverse and high-quality selection, “a lovingly curated list,” declares Teri Chace of the planning committee.

“Shopping local is always a good idea—support your friends and neighbors, support your local farms, keep money in the community and region,” says Chace. But now, she continues, it might be an even better idea: your food will be handled by far fewer hands. You can buy directly from the producer. The food will be fresh and wholesome.

A number of the Festival’s vendors are right here in the Mohawk Valley. Perhaps they can deliver, or you can call ahead and arrange to come pick up. No lines or crowds, no worries about social distancing.

For those that are located further away, mail-order or a gift certificate is the simple solution. “Many of our vendors would be delighted to ship their products to you, or to a friend or family member as a gift.” Yes, even perishable items like cheese can be shipped; it’s a matter of a cooler and dry ice (“think of the orders of Omaha Steaks or Harry & David Pears you may have received over the years,” she points out).

Critical need

“Small producers are in dire straits right now,” Chace states. “They have been hit very hard. They are in danger. We must help them survive.”

She cites just two typical reports from two of the vendors. “We lost 90% of our business last week,” and “all our NYC and downstate orders canceled. We are in real trouble.”

It isn’t just for the sake of the Festival, which may or may not go on as planned. These are entrepreneurs, farmers, innovative home businesses, the foundation of our regional economy. When they falter or fail, there will be economic and social ripple effects. “We can’t allow this to happen,” Chace pleads.

Shopping for food, fun, and treats!

The Little Falls Cheese Festival website has just been updated with all the confirmed 2020 vendors. Also, the Facebook page will be featuring individual businesses, going forward, so “follow” or “like” it to learn more about the vendors and what they can offer right now.

You can email, message, or call any of these small producers while shopping from home.

In addition to delicious cheese, from a local farm, you might also be able to get some (frozen or fresh) beef, pork, or chicken, or fresh eggs or milk. In the non-perishable realm, maybe it would be wise to order some beneficial garlic or onion powder or fire cider vinegar.

A treat might be in order for yourself or a loved one. “A dear friend grew up in Barneveld and is now living in California; I think she’d love any New York State product right now—cheese, wine, maybe some local honey.” As for herself. “I’m looking at some goats-milk fudge and perhaps some black-walnut bourbon,” Chace mused. “This is ‘retail therapy’ at its best, right?”

Background 

As most of you know, the Little Falls Cheese Festival has become an incredible success. Going into its 6th year, it is now the largest cheese festival in the State—as its website’s tagline says, “New York State’s Premier Gathering of Cheesemakers.”

In addition to some of the best, award-winning cheesemakers, it features wonderful gourmet products (splendid bread and crackers, salsas, chocolate, gelato and more) and many of the region’s most innovative craft-beverage producers (wines as well as mead and artisanal distillers).

The Festival strings out along over five blocks of Little Falls’ Main Street on a mid-July Saturday, interspersed with wonderful live-music acts and local businesses in full swing.

Last year, the crowds were estimated at 6,000, more than the population of the City! It was a thrilling and proud day. Mayor Mark Blask issued these warm congratulations:

What an awesome day in Little Falls! The organizers of the Cheese Fest absolutely crushed it. The number of people who flooded downtown was incredible — these pictures don’t even do it justice. I spoke with people from Boston, Cleveland, Buffalo and Rochester; most here for the first time. They gave rave reviews all around. Thanks to the organizers who worked so hard to make this such a huge success!

In addition to visitors from near and far, the Festival attracted food bloggers, TV and radio coverage, and even a nod in the international magazine for cheese, Culture. Several of the cheesemakers were invited to be on WAMC’s popular show “Round Table with Joe Donahue.” The enthusiasm was amazing.

But now, we look at the photos of those happy crowds and are torn between a keen longing for all that fun to happen again and a suppressed shudder at the sight of all those people in one place.

Status

Before the COVID-19 virus hit and New York hit “pause,” the 2020 Festival was already completely full. “Many of last year’s vendors had their best single day of business ever,” notes Chace. “As did many local businesses, especially our restaurants. As a result, everyone wanted to come back.” Also, “we were swamped with more cheesemakers and small producers, clamoring for the few remaining spaces. By the end of February, we had to start a waiting list.”

At the same time, local and regional business sponsors were jumping on board with generous donations to support this not-for-profit event, and more volunteers were signing up to help. “There’s been such wonderful momentum and support, and we’re so grateful.” She adds, “We were really looking forward to another amazing, successful day.”

Now? “It’s hard to say,” Chace sighs. “We have not determined whether the July 11 Festival date will hold, be canceled, or be postponed. We feel, with the situation changing daily, it’s too soon to tell and besides, people have more important things on their minds. We will let you know. Keep hope alive, everyone!”

Website: littlefallscheesefestival.com
Facebook: Little Falls Cheese Festival
Instagram: littlefallscheese