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Thousands converge on dairy destination

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A festival that started as a way to promote the Oregon Cheese Guild has grown into a destination that gourmets won’t want to miss.

Owing to a combination of good weather and an abundance of dairy delights, crowds abounded Saturday at all four stations of the newly expanded Oregon Cheese Festival, running behind Rogue Creamery along North Front Street in Central Point.

Rogue Creamery sold out of its 3,000 presale tickets and expects a total of 5,000 visitors this weekend, according to Rogue Creamery marketing manager Marguerite Merritt, who resorted to using a Segway to help manage two festival entrances a quarter-mile apart.

Other admission numbers weren’t immediately available, but Merritt said the festival saw “record” first-hour attendance Saturday morning.

Inside were 125 vendors from across the state ranging from grocery store heavyweights — such as Tillamook’s more eclectic fare and Franz Bakery handing out free grilled cheese sandwiches — to far smaller cheesemakers.

Among the smaller vendors was Helvetia Creamery out of Washington County. Owner Dave Grossen said they’ve been making cheese since 2016, but at a location with cheesemaking roots spanning generations.

His family made cheese on the century-old farm until the 1930s, Grossen said.

The family recipes were lost, so in order for Grossen to get his Gruyère-style “Bergkase” and sharper “Apfelheller” cheese recipes, he returned to where his great-great-grandfather was born in the Bernese Highlands of Switzerland.

Grossen also met distant relatives “still doing it,” making cheese in the Old World.

Like many a good cheese, the Central Point event took time for its culture to build, according to Tom Van Voorhees, Rogue Creamery’s “Ring Master.”

“It’s slow growth, but look at this,” Van Voorhees said, amazed at the crowd in Vendor Tent D. “We love having everybody here.”

Van Voorhees said that the company first put on the cheese festival as a way to promote and raise funds for the Oregon Cheese Guild — a cheesemaker collaborative serving a variety of purposes such as promoting Oregon’s artisan-made cheeses, continuing education about microtesting batches and keeping cheesemakers on top of regulation changes.

These days the Cheese Guild organizes the Central Point event as well as the October The Wedge event in Portland.

The Oregon Cheese Festival continues from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 17, near Rogue Creamery at 311 N. Front St., Central Point. See oregoncheesefestival.com.

The festival also served as a public preview for the CraterWorks MakerSpace, a nonprofit facility converted from the old Crater Iron warehouse, which is planned as a versatile workshop for Crater High School students and the greater community.

Construction crews temporarily cleared out for the event, according to CraterWorks General Manager Leigh Blair. It was the first time since November that she had the facility to herself.

“I almost cried,” Blair said, moved by how the building — which will have a kitchen, classrooms, workshops and recording studio — is coming along. A grand opening is set for 10 a.m. April 27. See craterworks.org for details.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

A crowd fills a vendor tent Saturday at the Oregon Cheese Festival in Central Point. Mail Tribune / Nick Morgan
Nick Morgan / Mail Tribune Rogue Creamery's table at the Oregon Cheese Festival in Central Point.