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Cheese Curd Festival comin' in hot this year: New curd flavor released, improvements to festival

Cheese curd fans will get to experience a new flavor this year, announced as jalapeno bacon at a Cheese Curd Festival Kickoff meeting April 25. The smokey, savory flavor was a crowd-pleaser at the meeting's tasting. Sarah Nigbor / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Some enhancements and changes to the East End Park district will be implemented this year for the Festival activities to ensure good pedestrian traffic flow, provide more curd and vendor experiences and maintain fluid bus drop-offs from parking sites. Sarah Nigbor / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Children were invited to color the 2018 Cheese Curd Festival poster in East End Park Friday, June 22, 2018. The poster was filled up early on with many fine artists' work. Sarah Nigbor / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

In less than two months, it is expected that tens of thousands of cheese curd fans and curious tourists will flock to Ellsworth's East End Park June 21 and 22 to experience all that will be offered at the ever-growing Cheese Curd Festival.

This year, various new ideas have been conceived in the planning process which will bring a vamped-up version of the festival to downtown Ellsworth, with a larger footprint beyond the 2018 space.

Consumers will have the opportunity to feast on the new flavor of the year, jalapeno bacon, and stroll through the East End Park , which will host many new developed additions.

The festival will still be central to the East End business district and East End Park rather than be moved to the Pierce County Fairgrounds. This allows travelers from River Falls, Hudson and Prescott to have greater exposure to shops, bars, businesses and restaurants in downtown Ellsworth, Ellsworth Chamber Executive Support Team Member Kim Beebe said.

"We want the festival to be a driver for revitalization in the East End," Beebe said at a Cheese Curd Kickoff meeting April 25. "People would miss downtown if they went to the fairgrounds."

The Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce reported 96.1% of 2018's attendees were from outside the 54011 postal code area.

Beebe named three "pillars" as to why the festival needs to remain in Ellsworth's East End:

• The Cheese Curd Festival Committee is creating a proof of concept, that tourism will work in Ellsworth if people are given fun things to do.

• Downtown businesses rely on the economic impact this weekend brings to the village. If people are herded to the fairgrounds, they will probably miss the downtown altogether.

• The Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery is the largest tourism anchor in town, and would be out of the loop if the festival were moved from the East End.

Facebook's official invitation to the annual curd event indicates nearly 30,000 Facebook members have shown interest in the festival as of April 25. With about seven weeks of planning and preparation left, Beebe said it should be expected that number will grow.

2018 brought around 30,000 attendees, six times the number of people in 2017, with over 3 million Facebook impressions and a $2.55 million economic impact, according to the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce.

To accommodate for the number of people expected this year, more volunteers will be needed to keep the festival running smoothly. People will be working areas of the festival such as parking lots, running supplies to food and drink tents and maintaining the public spaces by picking up trash.

In response to concerns about parking last year, Beebe said this year there will be a number of school buses shuttling people to and from downtown from parking lots at the elementary and high schools, the county office buildings and the fairgrounds. Parking will be free for all lots.

East End Park will feature music stages on the east and west sides of the park, the two pavilions will serve as bars and there will be double the number of cheese curd fryers as there were last year, plus two Cheese Curd Central stations with more cashiers.

North Broadway Street will also see some improvements. The street will be open as a pedestrian walkway and will have vendors, music and decorations.

A new endeavour, the East End Tactical Urbanism Project, will bring color and decor to the area by having banners, flower baskets, benches and tables, trees, window clings and pop-up businesses near North Broadway Street.

Becky Beissel, also with the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce Executive Support Team, said at the kickoff meeting that so many vendors had requested to be included in the festival that some had to be turned down. The following 14 food vendors, some new this year, will be featured at the festival:

• K&C Concessions

• Holy Donuts

• Hog Wild BBQ

• Richie's Cheese Curd Tacos

• Tastee Treatz

• Smokey Treats BBQ

• Miller Dogs

• The Big Cheese

• The Original Minneapple

• Kannel Concessions

• Regal Quesadillas & Philly Cheese

• Consuming Fire

• Stockwell's Maple Treat & Ice Cream

• Tator Tot Temptations

"Experience" events will be focused on food creations, such as:

• Milk and Cookie Pairing

• Ice Cream Tasting

• Corks and Kegs

• Craft and Curd, which will feature six or more breweries and rank people's preferred cheese and alcohol pairing

• Block Party, a new event which will be the largest cheese tasting venture in the area

In addition to the festival planning, a new pre-festival food competition is in the works. Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery CEO Paul Bauer is working with the Chippewa Valley Technical College to use its new kitchen for hosting a competition of cheese curd dishes. Winners will be awarded as a Festival Favorite by a panel of chefs and tasters.

A volunteer program will also be underway for the festival, where nonprofits have the opportunity to raise $1,000 by dedicating time for a day and a half at the event. Four people for each parking lot are still needed to volunteer. The Ellsworth Football Association has signed up to volunteer to set up and tear down equipment and the St. Francis Church and School showed interest in being responsible for maintenance and cleaning during the event.

Beebe said the festival has proved to have an impressive impact on the community by bringing awards and recognitions, increased tourism, opportunities for businesses and a hand in success alongside the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery.

For more information, visit www.cheesecurdfestival.com

Rachel Helgeson

Rachel Helgeson

(651) 301-7864
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