WELLINGTON — A 17-year tradition came to an end Saturday night with the close of the final day of the last Cheese Heritage Festival.
“It’s very sad to have it come to an end,” Patti Young, the grand marshal of this year’s festival, said. “I feel a little bit of sadness, but on the other hand, there’s some young people that have joined (Main Street Wellington) and come into the fold, and they have some fresh ideas, new thoughts, and I think it’ll be great.”
The festival was put on by Main Street Wellington, an organization Young helped found. She also was involved in the creation of the festival and has been involved with it every year it ran.
Main Street began the festival as a way to raise money for the organization, which aims to revitalize Wellington’s central business district “while preserving its historic character.” When people first heard about the festival 17 years ago, many were puzzled.
“When we first started this festival, people said, ‘Cheese? Wellington?’” Young said. “We were trying to find something that saluted our heritage, something we could raise money with and have a little fun with, as well. Nobody knew we were the cheese capital of the world at one point. It was one of those facts that was hidden.”
In the peak year, 1878, Wellington shipped more than 6 million pounds of cheese and more than 1 million pounds of butter all over the United States and to foreign countries. The value of the commodity exceeded $800,000.
The invention of refrigeration led to the decline of Wellington’s cheese-making, as the new technology meant farmers could store and transport the milk, rather than make it into cheese immediately, according to Young. Wellington hasn’t had a cheese-making operation in town since 1912.
Bruce Lehmkuhl, of Wellington, decided to stop at the festival Saturday afternoon to get some dinner and hang out with his kids for the atmosphere. While he attended the festival, Lehmkuhl said, it’s time for Wellington to move on from cheese.
“I think it’s run its course, and it’s time for a change,” he said. “I think next year would be a great year to do it with the bicentennial that’s coming up. I think they need to come up with a different theme, or just have a Wellington festival, or something like that.
“There’s not a lot here that has to do with cheese.”
Another problem Main Street has run into is finding vendors who want to offer their wares at the festival.
“You can’t have a strawberry festival without strawberries,” Young said. “That’s one of the issues we’ve had — we don’t make cheese. It’s hard to have a cheese festival without having a lot of cheese, and we don’t have it.
“Over the years, we’ve had some cheese vendors come in from little farms where they make their own craft cheeses, from all over Ohio. They only came once, though. Most cheese places just don’t have the time to come to our little town.”
Main Street is considering having a festival in the fall rather than in the middle of the summer, Young said. She hopes the village can showcase its cheese history at those future events.