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Seattle Cheese Festival Report

15-May-2005

I attended the first ever Seattle Cheese Festival yesterday morning.  It was sponsored by DeLaurenti’s and held at Pike Place Market.  As with all first time festivals and events, some things were done really well and some things need some improvement. 

There was a wonderful array of cheesemakers, types and styles of cheeses! Many sections of the US were represented, as were several countries from Europe.  The people behind the tables were very friendly and interested in sharing information about their offerings.  The samples were generous – I could have easily filled up on enough cheese to hold me the rest of the week!  In addition to the cheeses, there were a smattering of other offerings to complement the cheese.  Many of the products were available for purchase and the sizes/prices of the products were good.  Also, kudos to DeLaurenti’s for bringing in people and/or types of cheese that they don’t necessarily stock.  This made it feel much more like a true festival than a promotional activity for their store.  I tried some really beautiful and interesting cheeses.  Some were just interesting but many were products I now covet. 

On the down side, the tables were way too close together, with each purveyor only having a sliver of a space.  They had not elected to close the street, as they do for many events, so people were squeezed into a fairly narrow walkway running the length of the stalls.  Because of the close proximity of the tables and the gregarious nature of many of the exhibitors, there were giant bottlenecks.  People could neither get to the tables or get back out when they were done. And I arrived before 10:30 which was at the very start of the day.  I can only assume as Seattle woke up and more people made their way to the Market that the crowds and resulting chaos increased.  Not all of the cheesemakers were selling their product, which was a bit frustrating, although understandable.  But many of them didn’t know who in Seattle carried their products!  That was just wrong.  If the idea is to make people aware of your product so that they will purchase, you definitely should know where to send them!

Even with that I managed to spend some money before I decided that a better tactic might be to note the cheese I liked for future reference.  However, this proved to only partially be a good idea.  Some exhibitors had materials and some did not.  Since the conditions were so crowded I wasn’t really in the mood to pull out a notebook and take notes each time I found something.  And since DeLaurenti’s does not carry everything that was being sampled (I asked several vendors) I don’t even know where I can go in and describe some of the things I sampled, hoping to find them.  So that is a little frustrating. 

About 11:30 I decided to quit jostling with the crowds and check out the wine tasting, hoping that since I was on the early side I might be able to get ahead of the crowd.  Well, I was a little too much ahead of the crowd.  I don’t believe the website and early information listed hours but the Wine Tasting was not yet open.  I took a look at the sheet of events available at the festival and found that it didn’t open until noon.  I guess that’s reasonable, but there are a few of us who don’t mind sampling a little earlier in the day so it would have been nice to see it open at least by 11:00. 

I’m aware that this report sounds rather negative and it really wasn’t that bad.  If you are thinking of going today you should!  Just be prepared to go with the flow and think of a way to make notes to yourself so that you can remember things you liked.  I’d really like to see them do this again next year and improve it with the things they learn this year. 

At a minimum, I’d expect them to spread the tables and vendors out much, much more, preferably closing the street and giving people ample room to wander.  It also would have been really nice to have not just a list of companies (which was provided) but a listing of their cheeses so you could have just marked those you were interested in – like the sheets that are often available at wine tastings.  And the vendors should definitely have done their homework and know where their products are available – maybe even have sheets they can hand out with that info or include it on the tasting sheet. 

So I’d give the festival an A+ for effort, but only a C for implementation. 

(And if anyone from DeLaurenti’s happens to read this, I’d be more than happy to talk to you about how I can help you improve next year…) :-)

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3 Comments
  1. Unknown permalink
    16-May-2005 5:45 pm

    I don\’t think you sound negative at all. If anything, you underplay just how horribly frustrating the experience was. Kudos to DeLaurenti\’s for hosting an event like this but I don\’t think we tried more than 6 of the offerings before just throwing our hands up in the air and heading out. Can\’t even tell you what we tasted since most of the time we were just stabbing with toothpicks and heading backward for breathing space. I didn\’t think anything could be nuttier than the recent Yakima Valley Wine tasting at Palace Ballroom but I was wrong.

  2. Culinary permalink
    17-May-2005 7:14 am

    Sandra::-( Sorry you had a bad experience, too. Sounds like maybe you hit an even worse time than I did. I was at the Wine Tasting, too! The good thing about that was after about 40 minutes people started leaving so all of a sudden there was plenty of space to move around! I think they really didn\’t understand how many people would fit in that space (now they do!) and the setup probably affected the (lack of) flow, too. Sounds like I should be running into you one of these times since we seem to be at the same events! ~ B

  3. Unknown permalink
    19-May-2005 1:16 pm

    Oddly enough, Sunday (when we went), was even the lesser day in terms of weather. So, that made the craziness even more surprising.The wine tasting was insane, but not intolerable. And, being as it wasn\’t a free event, like the cheese festival, we weren\’t going to just walk away. Plus, we managed to actually talk with people at the tasting and make a few notes. Always good to see how many news wineries there are since we were last down that way. We arrived at the start time to find a line stretching down the block! I\’m still trying to figure out what it is about Seattle and lines. But, you\’re right. It was much easier to navigate toward the end. If we\’d had stayed longer, we might have got into Palace Kitchen along side you but we ended up at Brasa instead. I\’ll take that trade-off.What with Mariners games, too, we probably have passed somewhere like ships in the night.

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