In addition to the long list of musical acts, the Highland Games, the Celtic breeds dog show, Scottish and Irish dancing and much more, there’s one thing that the Maine Celtic Celebration — set for July 20-22 on the Belfast Waterfront — is probably best known for. It involves eight wheels of cheese and a handful of adventurous festival-goers.
Now in its sixth year, the New World Cheese Rolling Championship will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday, July 22, on the Belfast Common, and will pit groups of nine in multiple age groups — adult men, adult women, teenagers and children — in an epic battle to chase after and claim a three-pound wheel of cheese.
The cheese in question has been handcrafted by the folks at State of Maine Cheese Company in Rockport, out of their signature sharp cheddar. It’s molded into an approximately 8-inch-wide wheel with a thick, protective, natural rind encasing three pounds of delicious, creamy cheese.
“It’s just a really fun thing we get to do each year,” said Cathe Morrill, owner of State of Maine Cheese Company, which has both its cheese-making operations and retail store on Route 1 in Rockport. “We keep the actual sport of it in mind when we’re making it. First and foremost, it’s got to roll.”
In addition to the cheddar, State of Maine Cheese Company makes an array of Monterey Jack varieties, from the plain jack (Aroostook Jack) to Casco Bay Garlic, Kennebec Dill, Saint Croix Black Pepper, Saco Jalapeno and Port City Pesto. They also make a Mt. Kineo Caerphilly, a variation on a traditional Welsh cheese. All their cheeses — as well as a variety of Maine-made products — are available at their retail store on Route 1.
The competition starts with the cheese being started in a roll down the hill, with groups of nine scrambling after it. If there are more than nine who wish to compete in an age group category, the top nine will be narrowed down by a brief foot race uphill; the first nine are the ones who get to compete. Then, it’s a mad dash to be the first to make it to the bottom and claim the prize.
And there’s lots more happening at the Celtic Celebration besides cheese rolling. The weekend starts with a gala dinner and party from 5:30 to 10 p.m. at the Belfast Boathouse, featuring a fish and chips dinner and cash bar, with entertainment provided by the cast of the Belfast Maskers’ production of the Irish-themed musical “Brigadoon.” Tickets for the dinner are available at Out of the Woods in downtown Belfast.
The festival starts in earnest Saturday, with music from the likes of Bangor roots duo Maximum Blue, Portland Celtic band the Press Gang, fiddlers and songwriters like Stanley & Grimm, Ryan McGiver, Padraig Rynne, Michael Black and Chriss Crowley, and national/international artists such as Hank Araki and the Mighty Few, Acadian group Vishten and Cape Breton’s own Sprag Session. Most of those artists will also play during the day Sunday.
The dancing, workshops, dog show, 5k road race, children’s activities and much more will also be held at various points throughout both days. All events, besides the opening night dinner, are free, though donations are gratefully accepted. For a full schedule of events, visit mainecelticcelebration.com.