The second annual Atlanta Cheese Festival will be held this Friday (Oct. 3) at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Sponsored by Gourmet Foods International, a company that imports and distributes specialty products around the country, the festival will bring seventy-five cheese makers and artisan producers to the city.
From 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., attendees can sample cheese from creameries like Rogue, CalyRoad, and Point Reyes, and taste grilled cheese from Highland Bakery, Gunshow, and Muss & Turner’s. VIP ticketholders can indulge in beer and wine pairings. Tickets cost $35 for general admission and $75 for VIP, and proceeds benefit the Giving Kitchen.
We spoke with Brian Scott, vice president of sales at Gourmet Foods International and director of Atlanta Cheese Festival, to get all the gooey details.
How did you come up with the idea for the Atlanta Cheese Festival?
We replicate the biggest cheese festival in the entire world that happens in Bra, Italy, where Slow Foods was invented. It’s held every two years and called Cheese. About 250,000 people converge. It’s a culinary mecca. It’s an outdoor open market where you can celebrate—and buy—cheese. The past six years, we’ve sponsored six to eight American artisan producers to go and sell their cheeses and stir up demand.
We thought, ‘why don’t we replicate that concept here?’ It was a random discussion over lunch and morphed into this thing. It’s great for the cheesemakers because they get to engage with the people, sell their product, and tell people where they can get it [other times throughout the year].
What kind of response did you get the first year?
It was really great. We exceeded our break-even point. Proceeds above and beyond our cost benefit the Giving Kitchen. We had about 1,300 people. Now, we’re at about five times the ticket sales that we had last year at this point. I think we will double or triple the amount of people who will come.
What’s unique about the festival?
One of the initial craft beer masters, John Maier, will moderate the beer and cheese pairings discussion, and Max McCalman, author of cheese books, will moderate the wine and cheese discussion [for VIP ticketholders]. The cheese makers will talk about why these cheeses pair well. It’s cool to hear the passion and emotion behind it.
What are you most excited about?
The culinary VIP pairings. Our partner Murray’s Cheese on Bleeker Street in New York—one of the most recognized in U.S.—will have salamis and crackers and other accompaniments good with cheese. Peggy Smith, owner of Cowgirl Creamery, is doing a cooking with cheese demonstration. But I’m most excited about the Meltdown. Fifteen of our best restaurants’ chefs will have a smack down, basically. Everyone who comes into the festival gets a token to vote with. Last year’s reigning champion Home Grown will be competing again.
You’re expecting more than 2,000 attendees. Will they all get to sample the grilled cheeses?
We learned a lot of logistics last year. That’s one of the big reasons we went to the Botanical Garden—to be able to have everyone the opportunity to taste every single one of the grilled cheeses. We’ve given the newcomers best practices with sample size and staff, and we have staff to help as well.
Does festival admission include access to the Botanical Garden exhibits?
Yes, you can walk around, grab a glass of wine or beer and cheese samples, and walk around and see all the exhibits.
Anything else we should know?
There will be live music. The Dead Winter Carpenters are playing from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. They’re a fun, contemporary bluegrass band.