Kathleen Cotter searches the world for the finest artisan cheeses to sell at her shop The Bloomy Rind — and she is eternally fired up to spread the gospel of cheese. (Blessed are the cheese makers, as Monty Python might phrase it.)
And since Southern cheeses are some of the country's least-known artisan gems, Cotter has started the Southern Artisan Cheese Festival to get out the word about our regional bounty of cheese and dairy products.
It's not exclusively a cheese thing, though: The festival also includes scores of other handmade Southern foods. This year's fest, set for Oct. 6 at the Nashville Farmers' Market, will feature at least 150 different artisan products to eat and drink, Cotter says.
More than 20 cheese makers representing six Southern states are on board for the festival. A similar number of other purveyors will offer treats that are broadly themed as accompaniments to cheese, whether it's bread, cured meats, jam, chocolate, honey, pickles, chutney, mustard and more. (Oh yeah, and cheese's evilly sweet compatriot: ice cream.)
Samples of craft beer, along with wines selected by Woodland Wine Merchant to complement the cheeses, will also be served. Each festivalgoer who's over 21 will get a souvenir wine glass, and non-alcoholic beverages will be available, too.
This is the festival's second year, and Cotter has taken steps to solve some glitches in crowd flow that muddled the inaugural event. For one thing, the festival's footprint has expanded, taking over the whole outdoor flea market side at the Nashville Farmers' Market. To further reduce logjams, the layout will include more space between tasting stations, and the event starts earlier in the afternoon.
Cotter says the festival's motivating force is still spreading awareness about Southern cheeses.
"We don't have the history of Wisconsin or Vermont. But when I started getting into cheese, I really woke up to how many cheeses we have," she said. "A lot of people, even in the South, don't know we have great cheese."
And while the South is still new in the annals of cheese history, it's catching up, Cotter says. The American Cheese Society has an annual summit with blind-tasting competitions in various categories, and this year some Southern cheeses managed to earn top prizes amid a broad field of 1,700 entries.
For example, a cheese called Dancing Fern from Tennessee outfit Sequatchie Cove won first place in the farmstead cheese category. (New York state's illustrious Coach Farm fresh goat cheese scored third.)
The competition, which took place last month in Raleigh, N.C., was "definitely a proud moment" for Southern cheese, Cotter said. "We're coming into our own. The scene is growing, and people are making some amazing cheeses."
To beef up festivalgoers' cheese knowledge, the event will include some mini-classes on cheesy topics. And this year there's a guest of honor: Gordon Edgar, a venerable cheese expert and author of Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge, will be on hand at the fest to share his stories.
Also new this year is a VIP ticket option ($114), which includes admission to the new Makers n' Mongers reception the night before the festival, plus early entry to the fest, a swag bag and other goodies. General admission is $44, with a portion of proceeds going to the Martha O'Bryan Center, which helps families and adults living in poverty transform their lives.
As happened last year, the Southern Artisan Cheese Festival is expected to sell out. Tickets are available at southerncheesefest.com. 3:30 to 7 p.m.
Sept. 20: Nfocus Al Fresco Enjoy appetizers and four courses — including family-style entrees — created by Chef Bart Pickens of Loveless Event Catering. There will also be wine, beer and cocktail pairings all served outside on the grounds of the plantation, with proceeds benefiting Mercy Children's Clinic. 6 p.m. at Carnton Plantation
Sept. 20-22: Nashville Whiskey Festival This three-day festival starts with a VIP Tasting and Symposium and ends with the main event, an afternoon tasting as well as seminars conducted by spirit experts. A portion of ticket sales will benefit Nashville Clean Water Project. War Memorial Auditorium
Sept. 21-22: Southern Ground Music and Food Festival Oorganized by musical foodies The Zac Brown Band, Southern Ground will feature music from a variety of top country, alt-country, rock and pop acts alongside food from the band's own cook as well as some of Nashville's food trucks, restaurants and caterers. The Lawn at Riverfront Park
Sept. 22: The Great Food Truck Festival
The Lenox Village neighborhood is hosting a festival of food trucks in southeast Davidson County that will also include family-friendly live entertainment. A portion of the trucks' proceeds will be donated to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. 5 p.m. at Lenox Village Square
Sept. 30: East Nashville Cocktail Crawl Sample signature cocktails at Watanabe World Cuisine, No. 308, Rumors East, Pomodoro East and enjoy access to the Tasting Room, which will focus on 1-ounce tastings of boutique spirits and liquors. VIP crawlers will also have access to a food and cocktail pairing event at The Holland House Bar & Refuge.
Oct. 9: Charlie Daniels Scholarships for Heroes Dinner
Dine on The Palm's surf-and-turf while being entertained by Charlie himself. The dinner raises funds benefiting Sentinels of Freedom, an organization that helps injured veterans. 6:30 p.m. at The Palm
Oct. 13: Jog 'n' Hog Nashville's iconic candy, Goo Goo Clusters, celebrates its 100th birthday this year with a number of events throughout the fall. As part of the celebration, the candy is hosting Jog 'n' Hog, in which participants jog two miles, eat Goo Goo Clusters and then jog another two miles. The event coincides with the 100th birthday of Shelby Park as well. 8:30 a.m. at Shelby Park
Oct. 13: Oktoberfest
Historic Germantown — home to some of the oldest residences in the city — invites the rest of Nashville to celebrate their German heritage at this free event that takes place throughout the neighborhood. The festival features a beer garden, authentic German food and entertainment, as well as a special play area just for the kids. 9 a.m. at Seventh Avenue and Monroe Street
Oct. 14: Battle of the Food Trucks
The food trucks step back in the ring to raise money for The Tomorrow Fund. Sample from the trucks and vote for your favorites. 3 p.m. at Greer Stadium
Oct. 14: Nashville Chili Festival
This all-ages event includes music, a chili pepper eating contest, activities for the kids and, of course, chili tastings and beer. Proceeds benefit Community Shares. Noon at Yazoo Brewing Co.
Oct. 19: Franklin Wine Festival The festival includes a number of vintner dinners and seminars, but the big event is the Grand Tasting with more than 300 wines to sample and food from more than 30 restaurants and confectioners. 7 p.m. at The Factory at Franklin
Nov. 2: Wine Down Main Street
Franklin will close off traffic as Main Street merchants host special wine, beer and food tastings. Ticket prices include entertainment and all tastings. Proceeds benefit Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee, Franklin and Fairview Clubhouses. 7 p.m. on Main Street in Downtown Franklin
Nov. 3: Anthony Bourdain: Guts and Glory
For one night, you can listen to Bourdain tell stories of his past culinary exploits while funding his future adventures. 8 p.m. at TPAC's Jackson Hall
Dec. 1: 12South Winter Warmer
The season's best craft beer tasting event will also have music and plenty of food to soak up that beer. Tickets go on sale Oct. 26 at 9 a.m. They sold out within a few hours last year, so keep that date and time handy. Benefits The Workshop/Oasis Center. 11 a.m. at Sevier Park —Lesley Lassiter
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