It was the perfect end to a wonderful holiday. We'd rented a holiday cottage in the little village of Bishop's Caundle. We'd spent a week cruising around Dorset on a tandem, had visited castles and gardens and had stocked our larder at our favourite olive store. And then we saw the signs for the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival. To be held just up the road from out cottage on our last day in Dorset!
Now we had a problem: we don't like crowds, but we love cheese. So what was one to do about that?
We decided to go early to avoid the rush and to leave when it got too busy. But did we? No, of course not. There was just so much going on that we barely noticed the crowds. We were simply part of it.
Set along the fording point for the Stour River, Sturminster Newton
was once the site of a major creamery. And even though that creamery is now closed and Sturminster cheese is not longer made here, the town has never lost its passion for cheese.
Just watch the participants in the 'Cheese Blind Date' or engage in a jovial round of cheese 'Sniff, Squeeze and Taste' and you'll realise that cheese and 'Stur' go together.
Held on the recreation ground between the town and the river, the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival has been going for a while. It's grown from a few stalls for local producers to show off their best cheeses to a raft of suppliers offering mouthwatering selections of cheese and other fine foods.
There's free parking, a park and ride facility and entrance fees to the festival are modest. Anyone under 14 gets in free. And once you're in, you'll find that the food for sale and on display is simply the best Dorset and the neighbouring counties have to offer.
Of course, there is cheese, as local artisan cheese makers turn out in force for this event. Crowds cluster round each stand tasting new creations, looking for old favourites. And while other festivals may produce a commemorative coin or coaster, Sturminster Newton's festival has a commemorative cheese! Or at least, it did the year we visited. And we were told that if you want a taste of that, you'll have to get there very early.
So joining the cheerful throngs we tried soft cheeses, goats cheeses, hard cheeses and blue cheeses - and they were all exceptional. Our find of the show? The best Cheddar we'd ever come across from Godminster Farms in Somerset. Absolutely to die for!
Man cannot live on cheese alone - even though we do try! So other producers offering olives, many fine baked goods, jams, meats and homemade taste delights galore have opened their stalls beside those of the cheese makers.
Many local farms also bring their produce to the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival, which means you can do your weekly shop right here! I can personally vouch for the pasties, the sourdough bread and the olives we tried and took away with us!
And if you want liquid refreshment, then you are spoilt for choice. The products on offer range from freshly squeezed apple juice and home-made lemonade, through cider, perry and real ale to local English wine and Dorset Cider Brandy!
Still, there's a more than food at the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival. Close to 50 other exhibitors display craft items, which are as varied as the food.
If you want unique one-of-a-kind jewellery, there are several booths that sport hand made jewellery. Home-made leather hats and bags can top off your distinct look. Or you may want to use the festival as a time to locate that hard-to-find Christmas gift for the person that has everything. There are home-made soaps, garden furniture, stained and fused glass, silk paintings and more.
Entertainment wasn't limited to the bands that play at the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival. There was a Punch and Judy show, Morris dancing and more for the children.
If you have a passion for knowledge this is the perfect place for you to spend the day. The Mousetrap theatre has very popular cookery and food demonstrations. You can learn about the production of cheese and bread or about flour milling. There's a plethora of history in the town including some about its more famous citizens, poet William Barnes and novelist Thomas Hardy.
The Sturminster Newton Cheese festival has it all. Spend a glorious day shopping the stalls of the market and looking for local delicacies you'll find nowhere else.If you've shopped 'til you dropped, enjoy the music and a bit of ale or wander through the town to view the local architecture and historical sites of the town.
We don't like crowds, it's true, but this was one food festival that was so much fun, we barely noticed how busy it was. And the cheese was fabulous, of course.
For this year's
Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival,
for dates, news, parking, camping, lists of producers attending and all the myriad of details you may want to know...