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Cheese lovers flock to Adams festival

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ADAMS — “Can I have another plate, please? Another big plate of macaroni and cheese?” Watertown resident Jerry Loch sang into a microphone while strumming his guitar in front of a crowd at the Cheddar Cheese Festival on Saturday in the village.

To mesh with the song’s lyrics, in front of the band were 11 homemade dishes of macaroni and cheese arranged on a table for a cook-off contest at the third annual festival, which showcased about 60 vendors and six north country wineries. Three judges scored the cheesy noodle platters based on their appearance, texture and flavor, while those who brought strong appetites to the festival sampled the family recipes.

After judges chalked up the final tally, 11-year-old Madison C. Thomas seized the top prize to take home $25 in cash.

Just what makes her grandmother’s family recipe so mouth-watering?

“I think it’s the extra cheddar cheese,” she said with a smile, explaining that she cooked the dish with some guidance from her grandmother, Judy J. Franklin. Reciting the family recipe’s ingredients, she said the oven temperature is dialed down from 300 to 150 degrees when it’s almost done to add melted butter and crushed crackers, which add an extra crunch.

“It’s nothing fancy,” Mrs. Thomas said modestly of her recipe, which was made using cheddar from Great Lakes Cheese. She enjoyed spending the day at the festival with her grandchildren, who said their next stop would be the dunk tank at Arbor Park. “There’s something for everyone in the family here.”

Others watched Jerry S. Merrill transform a 40-pound block of cheddar into a smiling mouse. By holding a wire taut with both hands, the volunteer artist from Rodman demonstrated how he sheds the cheese to create detailed features.

The 70-year-old said he carves sculptures mainly the winter with snow, but making the switch to cheese isn’t much different. Last year’s cheese sculpture depicted a cow nursing a calf.

He was aided in making the first slice by some strong teenage boys who asked him questions about the hobby.

“It’s a good way to get them interested in sculpting,” he said.

Gravitating to the cheese like a magnet, a long line of people waited outside the Great Lakes Cheese booth to sample and buy some cheddar produced at the local plant. The company brought a trailer full of cheese, and by 1 p.m. a good portion had vanished.

Featured were cheese curds and blocks of cheddar aged for a year and four years, each with a distinctive flavor.

“We get a lot of our milk from local farmers here, so this gives people a chance to support the community,” said Susan L. Creighton, human resources representative at the plant.

And after snacking on cheese, revelers at the festival had a chance to wash it down with wine produced at local vineyards. Thousand Island Winery’s exhibit lured more than 500 people by noon, said employee Stephen J. Brooks, who poured samples of more than a dozen red and white wines.

“The competition with wineries is good” for business, he said, pointing to the bevy of competitors’ booths under the tent. “The more choices you have, the more people are going to come.”

An army of about 100 volunteers from the Adams Revitalization Committee made this year’s festival a reality, said organizer Karen R. Hongo. Organizers never thought the festival would grow so speedily, but the village has already built a reputation as the north country’s cheddar cheese mecca.

“Cheese has been made in southern Jefferson County for more than 100 years,” Ms. Hongo said, “and we want to continue that legacy with Great Lakes Cheese here.”

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