This past weekend was the First Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival at the Monona Terrace in Madison. I have to say that while most of it was a blur because I was organizing instead of attending, there were a few truly memorable moments, including:

1. Exhuberant cheesemakers = big hugs = accidental bloody noses. We were setting up for Friday night’s Meet the Cheesemaker event, and as cheesemakers arrived to set up, many were giving me hugs. One cheesemaker, who will remain unidentified, ran toward me, gave me a big hug, and without meaning to, punched my daughter square in the nose (she was standing behind me). Gushing blood ensued, but about 20 minutes of applying pressure to her nose and splashing cold water on her dress, we got out all the stains. In good news, she likes his cheese, so all is forgiven. Which leads me to the next memory …

2. Don’t carry a large round glass vase with one finger. Words to the wise: don’t carry a big glass bowl full of water and flowers by the top, because in this case, gravity will work against you. All I can say is that somewhere last night at the Monona Terrace, a highly valued, probably highly underpaid worker is still probably trying to get glass out of the carpet and, at the same time, attempting to remove large amounts of my blood from a white linen napkin. In exciting news, I have a potential scar on my right forefinger to show off for the Second Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival in 2010.

3. Stinky cheese is really stinky. Turns out that nine pounds of Limburger, three pounds of Aged German Brick and six wheels of washed rind Petit Frere really stink up a room. Kudos to the attendees of Saturday afternoon’s Rebirth of Washed Rind Cheeses seminar for tasting three different ages of Limburger on rye bread with mustard and jam, eating a big hunk of German Aged Brick and tasting Petit Frere, all the while sitting in a closed room for 60 minutes listening to cheesemakers Myron Olson and George Crave. That’s what I call dedication.

4. Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen likes to wander. Some cheesemakers are better speakers than others, and some get more nervous than others when they are about to tell their life story to a room of 40 strangers. Brenda Jensen is a fabulous speaker who gets really nervous before speaking. This leads her to walk around a room while giving her presentation, but also serves as a highly entertaining, interactive presentation. She has officially been named the festival’s “Honorary Wandering Cheesemaker.” You rock, Brenda!

5. “You need a live cow in here”. The drinks were flowing pretty steady Friday night, evidenced by the lovely gentleman who approached me around 8:45 p.m. with what I would guess was about his fifth microbrew in hand. He grabbed me by the arm, drew me in close and said: “You know what would make this shindig just about perfect? (insert dramatic pause here with me arching one eyebrow, attempting to dodge his breath and asking What?) … “You need a live cow in here.” And with that, he let go of my arm, happily walked away and continued to sample cheese. Ahhh … another happy customer.

6. Favorite quote. This has to be my all time favorite quote from attendees all weekend. Katie Houghton, a member of Wisconsin Cheese Originals who lives in Shorewood, emailed me right away this morning with the following: “I met every single artisan cheesemaker that I have ever wanted to meet, and had actual conversations with them. I ate so much cheese I had trouble sleeping. Wow, what a fabulous day.” Yes … mission accomplished.

7. You look hungry. After four hours of cutting up cheeses, my volunteers were looking a little peaked. Seminar leader and Fromagination cheesemonger Gisele Grad noticed this, and without a word, went to Roman Candle and brought back a huge pepperoni pizza for everybody. What a woman. We love you, Gisele!

8. You cashed in your savings bonds for this? Teenager MaryLove Himebook of Memphis, Tennessee cajoled her mother into driving to Wisconsin for the First Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival, and paid for gas and hotel by cashing in more than $300 worth of her own savings bonds. Read the whole story here. Pretty inspiring.

9. “Put it towards next year.” And finally, one of the best moments of the festival was watching Cheesemaker Al Bekkum open up his thank you envelope on Saturday, pull out his speaker honorarium check and hand it right back to me. “Put it towards next year and sign me up now.” I nearly cried but instead gave him a big hug. I love Wisconsin cheesemakers. You guys and gals are the best.

See you all on November 5 -7, 2010 for the Second Annual Wisconsin Original Cheese Festival. Same time, same place. Lots of cheese. Whoo-hoo!

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