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Oregon Cheese Festival takes stinky comments to heart

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The Oregon Cheese Festival is staying put even after record attendance pushed the event to new heights and some attendees past their comfort limit.

“I can say definitively we’ll still be at the same site,” said Katie Bray, executive director of the Oregon Cheese Guild, which took over management of the cheese festival from Rogue Creamery eight years ago.

“What I cannot say is exactly how we’re going to change things to make (festival-goers) more comfortable,” Bray said.

The festival, held March 16-17 at the site of Central Point School District’s new makerspace called CraterWorks, garnered negative feedback from a number of attendees who complained it was too crowded, the amount of children in strollers made it hard to walk around and the number of alcohol vendors was too many.

“It was so crowded we could barely move,” wrote Tanya Martin in a comment on the event’s Facebook page.

Multiple people said they were not expecting to return to the festival next year.

Bray said that because most of the feedback she had heard at the festival was positive, the negative comments in the wake surprised her. But organizers are taking the comments to heart, she said.

“We will do something,” she said. “Whether that is limit the number of people who come, or figure out a way to expand the space. A lot of that still remains to be determined.”

Options that would limit the number of attendees are to raise ticket prices or offer fewer tickets, though Bray said she would like to accommodate everyone who wants to go.

Some attendees expressed concerns about fire code violations due to the size of the crowd, but officials with Jackson County Fire District 3 said that those fears are unfounded.

Deputy Fire Marshall Mark Northrup said that a city inspector who attended the festival felt that the amount of people did not exceed the occupancy load for the tents, according to inspections both Northrup and the inspector had conducted in the two days leading up to the event.

Northrup said the crowding in the tents was “more of a flow issue.”

David Gremmels, Rogue Creamery’s president who started the Oregon Cheese Festival at the Central Point location before the Oregon Cheese Guild took over, said that those issues could be mitigated “by monitoring the attendance at the gate and by expanding the footprint.”

Addressing attendees’ concerns about too much alcohol at the cheese festival, Bray said that those vendors made up only about a third of all the producers at the event.

She and the other organizers are considering limiting alcohol vendors, she said, but local spirits and beer businesses are eager to be included at the event.

“We want to give those vendors a chance,” she said. “How do you tell a new local startup operation that we can’t have you?”

The festival isn’t likely to stop admitting children.

“We’re really committed to having it be something people can bring their families to,” Bray said.

The Oregon Cheese Festival attendance this year rose somewhere into the range of 5,000 to 5,500 people, Bray said. Because it draws many visitors from up and down the West Coast and beyond, the Central Point event is about twice the size of the Portland event, she said.

“It’s the Southern Oregon one that’s really community centered, community focused,” she said. “That’s really neat. I want to preserve that, as well.”

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

This year's Oregon Cheese Festival has doubled its footprint in Central Point, organizers say, making space for 125 vendors and a crowd in the thousands. Mail Tribune video / Nick MorganThumbnail
Rogue Creamery's table at the Oregon Cheese Festival in Central Point. The festival ran March 16 and 17 at the site of Central Point School District's new makerspace called CraterWorks.{ }Nick Morgan / Mail Tribune