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Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival gets cheesier

Deep-fried cheese curds are just one of many delicious items to be sampled at this year's Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival June 22 and 23 in East End Park. Submitted photo

The 17th annual Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival will take place in the village's East End Park Friday, June 22 and Saturday, June 23. According to festival organizers, the event will be cheesier than ever with more food, entertainment and tasting opportunities.

"In Ellsworth we tend to take our cheese curds for granted," said Kim Beebe, Executive Team member of the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event. "We can get them fresh anytime. However, cheese curds have a bit of a cult-following that's growing throughout the Midwest and beyond. When you can't get fresh curds at the drop of a hat, a cheese curd celebration is a pretty exciting opportunity."

To make the most of this growing trend and the popularity of food festivals, event organizers continue to build off the successes of the past three years as the festival made a shift from community festival to foodie event. Through the hard work of many area businesses, and with the support and a marketing grant from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, the Cheese Curd Festival is continuing their revamp to give attendees more of what they want while infusing tourism dollars into the local economy.

In recent years the event can best be described as part food and beer celebration and part music festival. Attendees get their fill of hand-battered deep-fried cheese curds and curd-infused dishes, along with craft beer, regional wines and hard ciders. To top it all off, an eclectic mix of music and interactive tastings create a unique experience for adults and kids, alike.

"The tastings became an instant hit," says Beebe. "Yet, attendees still want more creative cheese curd dishes and opportunities to taste the festival's signatures foods."

Events, such as the Corks & Kegs happy hour tasting event, have grown since being introduced two years ago to the point of selling out this year within a matter of hours, despite increasing the event's capacity.

"We couldn't believe how quickly the event sold out. We're considering adding a third Corks & Kegs into the schedule next year," added Beebe.

The festival is building on the success of Corks & Kegs by adding two additional tasting events to this year's line-up: "Craft & Curd: Paired" and the "Elliott's Meats Cheese Curd Brat Party." Craft & Curd: Paired is the ultimate brewery face-off. Five local breweries will battle it out for best brew and cheese curd flavor pairing with festival attendees being given the opportunity to sample and vote on their favorite combination. The brewmasters worked with Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery to create unique cheese curd flavors to pair with their favorite craft brews. Some of the pairings include a Peanut Butter Porter with Raspberry cheese curds, and an Amber Ale with Tomato Basil cheese curds. The remaining pairings are just as interesting. Attendees will vote for their favorite flavor combo via text on their smartphones, tracking results in real-time on the big-screen for an interactive experience.

The Elliott's Meats Cheese Curd Brat Party is touted to be the trifecta of Wisconsin flavors. Attendees will enjoy sample-size cheese curd brats and have the opportunity to top them off any way they like, with a mile-long smorgasbord of ketchups, mustards, sauces and more.

Tickets for Craft & Curd: Paired, the Elliott's Meats Cheese Curd Brat Party, as well as the Milk & Cookie Pairing and Ice Cream Tasting, two family-friendly tastings, will be available at the festival prior to each event.

Of course attendees can also get their fill of both fresh and hand-battered deep fried curds and gourmet dipping sauces at the festival's Cheese Curd Central booth. There will be the classic, which is hand dipped in beer batter and fried. The Cinnamon Sugar Dessert Curds, which is an Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival original, will also be back. Plus, making their debut to the festival this year will be a Hickory Bacon cheese curd, which will be fried up in beer batter for a taste sensation that combines two great flavors.

Ten food trucks will be serving up cheesy curd-infused dishes, vying for votes from festival attendees in another competition. Smokey Treats BBQ, last year's "People's Choice" winner, and Consuming Fire last year's "Festival Favorite" will both be in attendance again this year. Sconnie Tacos, kabobs, brick oven pizzas, grilled cheese sandwiches, mac n' cheese, donuts, and more are among the other creative cheese curd dishes being served by professional food vendors along Food Truck Alley. Cooking demos will offer opportunities to sample unique cheese curd creations while offering tips to weekend gourmets on how to best cook and create with the unique ingredient.

All those cheese curds will be served up with a heaping side of music. Popular regional musical acts, ranging from solo acoustical country and rock artists to several piece bands playing blues, jazz, Cajun funk, and soulful genres, will perform on festival stages offering a near continuous stream of music.

Cole Allen, critically acclaimed solo artist and guitarist, is back again this year. Reverend Raven and The Chain Smokin' Altar Boys will be performing their Chicago-style blues. Sherwin Linton, a legendary folk, country, and rockabilly music icon will be performing his Elvis, Marty Robbins, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Johnny Cash classics. Miss Myra and The Moonshiners, a formidable 5-piece swing band, will be bringing fresh female-driven traditional New Orleans and hot club jazz music, with classic tunes from the '20s and '30s and inspired originals. And Boom Boom Steve V & the Knockouts will be serving up high-energy, post-war Chicago blues, Memphis-soul and West-coast swing. Plus, other popular regional acts like Tim Fast, the Swamp Kings, Lexi Parr, Left Wing Bourbon and Joyann Parker will offer performances.

The 5 and 10K run, and classic car show offer additional interactive family-friendly experiences. In staying true to the area's agricultural roots, an antique tractor show gives our local farmers a chance to show off their restored machines, while a corn dig and straw bale playland give the kids plenty of opportunity to have fun. And the festival wouldn't be complete without the Cheese Curd Eating Contest. Compete as an individual or a two-person team, or join in the fun as a spectator. Contestants will compete for cash, prizes, and bragging rights.

Admission to the Cheese Curd Festival is free, with tickets required for some events. You'll find a complete event schedule, tickets, and directions at CheeseCurdFestival.com, and breaking festival news and announcements on Facebook at fb.com/CheeseCurdFestival, and Twitter at @CheeseCurdFest.