A glimpse into the wide world of cheese sports
Never fear that cheese lovers might be considered poor sports—not when the milk-based object of their affection is the star player in a roster of silliness staged around the globe. Here are just a few of the cheesy activities.
International Cheese Curling Championships
It may not be an Olympic event, but this variation of the much-loved winter sport draws a crowd at the Amish Country Cheese Festival in Arthur, Illinois, with participants hailing from as far away as Taiwan and China. Roughly based on the real thing, cheese curling entails rolling a four-pound round “stone” of Amish Baby Swiss down a “rink” and toward a target. Contestants use household brooms to clear any debris that may prevent the cheese from reaching its intended goal quickly. Winners take the four-pound cheese.
According to its official website, the 2009 Cheese Roll at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire, England, produced 58 casualties, 11 of whom were sent to a hospital. Cooper’s Hill, you see, isn’t so much a hill as a cliff with an extremely rough and uneven surface. The annual event sees a seven- to eight-pound wheel of Double Gloucester rolled down the precipice as up to 20 players chase after it. First to reach the bottom gets a wheel of the cheese, while a small cash prize is given to second- and third-place finishers. Jean Jefferies, a local authority on the event, acknowledges that other places also celebrate cheese rolling, “but only on level ground,” she says. “Ours is down a cliff face.”
Due to its popularity, organizers of the event have postponed the next competition until 2011 so they may better address “crowd safety, respect for the local community, and emergency vehicle access.” According to official estimates, more than 15,000 people tried to attend last year—more than triple the site’s capacity.
A similar contest, the Stilton Cheese Rolling Championships, happens in Cambridgeshire, notes cheese expert and author Juliet Harbutt. “There is slightly more control with that event,” Harbutt says, noting that cheese at this event is rolled down the main street by teams of participants.
Not to be outdone, in 2008 the Dairy Farmers of Canada (DFC) launched a similar event on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia. “It was a great way to bring a fun, outdoor event to Canada and to celebrate our [own] cheese-making industry,” says Solange Heiss, assistant director of marketing and nutrition communications for the DFC. In addition to utilizing a less precarious slope than the Gloucester rolling, the Whistler event replaced the traditional British cheese with a custom-made 11-pound wheel of Cracked Pepper Verdelait from Natural Pastures Cheese Company in Courtenay. Winners take home the cheese wheel as well as Whistler/Blackcomb winter-season ski passes.
Cheese Tossing and Cheese Skittles
When Juliet Harbutt organized the British Cheese Festival in 2000, she added an element of fun by devising two games, Cheese Tossing and Cheese Skittles. “We toss a fake cheese, which is soft and light,” Harbutt says, but the tosser throws it from between his or her legs, which is hard to do. The catcher must remain immobile while attempting to lay hold of the cheese. “The whole point is to make people look stupid,” admits Harbutt, noting the British slang use for the word “tosser.” (Look it up.) Skittles is said to have spawned ten-pin bowling; Harbutt’s version entails aiming a Lincolnshire Poacher cheese at a group of old wooden skittles (pins).
Explore both games at http://thecheeseweb.com
Video and Online Games
These games frequently require players to prevent a mouse from finding a wedge of cheese or to aid the rodent in its efforts. Other gamers, however, prefer a more subtle flavor to their high-tech cheese fetish. Witness the 34 entries in the 2008 Toronto Game Jam (TOJam) indie fest, each of which required a cheese theme, an image of a goat on a pole, and the sound made by the Toronto subway doors as they close. One contender—Goats Amoré—tells players they will assume the role of a lonely piece of cheese chasing a goat.
Download it at http://tojam.ca
There’s also an online amusement that will expand your knowledge of cheese: for each name given, players must decide whether it is the name of a cheese or the name of a text font.
Janet Collins is a freelance writer based in British Columbia.
photos: courtesy thecheeseweb.com; great british cheese festival