by Dave Warner
To quote almost everyone who was involved as a volunteer, or who attended as a guest, the 20201 Cheese Festival was ‘tremendous’. The weather was perfect, the crowds were huge, and if you spent time just watching, it appeared to be running like a well-oiled machine.
After a successful 2019 festival, expectations were high that 2020 would be even better, and so early planning started at the beginning of last year. Then…COVID happened.
The first thing the group had wanted to change was to move the festival out of July. According to Cheese Festival organizer Teri Chace, it was way too hot. “The cheese was melting, the public was melting, they ran out of beverages, there were huge lines, it was just way too hot.”
They thought about whether it should move to the spring or the fall, and decided that the valley is so beautiful in the fall, that it would work the best. “Did we ever get a perfect fall day Saturday? We got a GREAT fall day. We’re not sorry.”
Of course, Chace said that many other festivals happen in the fall as well, so there is competition for crowds, like the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival. “They run two days, so if you were really into it, you could go to the Cheese Festival on Saturday and the garlic festival on Sunday,” she stated.
For cheesemakers, it was a big deal to move the festival out of the month of July, but skipping last year affected volunteers as well. Some had burned out, so in order to organize for 2021, they had to find new blood. “We put out a call for people, and people who were on ‘Team Cheese’ as we call ourselves, recommended friends,” said Chace.
She said that they had to sustain the group of volunteers and the very idea of the festival for a long time. “If you’ve never been on a planning committee, it’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of things you wouldn’t even think of in order to have a successful festival.” They had to keep the ideas, experience, and group together to be ready for the next attempt.
Chace said the group is very diverse with some people who live in Little Falls, or who have been here their whole lives, and then there are others who are newcomers, like herself. “One of the new members on Team Cheese just moved here and was looking for something to do to contribute to her new community.”
She said that they also have two cheesemakers who are part of the committee. “We have all kinds of different skills. When we started meeting again in January to plan this year’s event, we wanted to make some important improvements.”
The number of people who attended the 2019 event, more than 6,000 total, was a bit overwhelming. “People snuck into the grocery store parking lot, the side streets parking in front of fire hydrants, people walked through yards, it was just overwhelming,” she said.
So, they instituted shuttle parking as one of the key additions. “Another thing we wanted to do to improve it, was to have a nicer booklet. Something that educated people about cheese and also helped them understand why the Cheese Festival is in Little Falls. Why it’s not in Albany or why it’s not in Utica. It’s here for historical reasons. Little Falls is the historic capital of cheese in the United States, and some people believe in the world. Once upon a time, the price of cheese was set here with wheeling and dealing.”
Chace said the prices were even sent out by Morse Code. “Which is a crazy detail. Yesterday during the festival, I even saw people stopping and reading the placards that explain the history, near the bank that was involved in the historic price setting of cheese.”
“I think people who come to the Cheese Festival might be starting to get why it is here in Little Falls, but we will continue to hammer that angle,” she said.
Little Falls is a great place to have a festival, once you solve the parking problem according to Chace because the City, DPW, and police department are very supportive of closing Main Street. “Five blocks of Main Street for a whole day,” she said. “When you have all the tents lined up down the street, it’s a beautiful sight. It’s like an old-fashioned carnival kind of feel,” she stated.
When asked how she thought the festival went? “Wow. The festival this year astounded us. It exceeded all expectations.”
The initial count shows that more than 8,000 people attended this year’s event. “I can’t even think of a word for my feelings. I was overwhelmed with relief, joy, and delight. We really wanted to have a festival where people had a good time. That’s something you really can’t plan for. Something magical happened Saturday,” Chace stated.