Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival- When It All Began
Since 1988, the first weekend in June has been cause for celebrating in Little Chute as this weekend heralds in June Dairy Month with the Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival. The festival is a 3-day celebration which takes place at Doyle Park in Little Chute. The festival is a family event that features live music, numerous food booths, carnival rides, parade, walk/run, cheese tasting, cheese carving demonstrations, cheese curd eating contest, children's games and entertainment, and a cheese breakfast.
In its first year, the festival received national attention for its cheese tasting contest between Wisconsin and New York. It all began when an editorial appeared in a local newspaper which questioned why a national cheese museum was placed in Rome, New York. Wisconsin Senator Chilsen became involved by penning a poem stating that Wisconsin, the Dairy State, should have been the sight of the museum, since it made the most and the best cheese. New York responded by holding an impromptu “cheese off” in New York. New York, of course, declared their cheese the winner, but Wisconsin cheese lovers wouldn’t let it end there. The citizens of Little Chute offered to hold another “cheese off," this time at the 1st Annual Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival. The Mayor of Rome, New York, Carl Eilenberg accepted the invitation to attend, and the Cheese Festival sent him a plane ticket. In the contest, Wisconsin cheese won in all categories, and was dubbed “Best Cheese in the USA." Mayor Eilenberg filed a protest claiming the tasting was unfair, since the cheeses were easily identifiable as “Wisconsin” and “New York." He requested a blind testing on live television and proceeded to blindfold a TV reporter on the scene. Blindfolded, the reporter picked Wisconsin cheese as the best. The Festival is coordinated by the efforts of Village employees and community volunteers who make up the Board of Directors. The Festival's success can be credited to the many volunteers who give of their time and talents.
The festival benefits the community in many ways. Since its inception, the Festival has donated over $1,251,620 to community organizations, projects, and schools. Beneficiaries have included the four Little Chute schools, Gerard H. Van Hoof Memorial Library/Civic Center, Little Chute Windmill, Fox Valley Metro Police Dept., Little Chute Fire Dept., Little Chute Park & Rec Dept., Little Chute Community Band, local food pantry, Outagamie County 4-H, and many other nonprofit organizations.
Scholarships are given yearly to four students at Little Chute High School. The profits from the Festival have also been used toward major park improvements; namely, the Doyle Park amphitheater, addition to the pool deck, playground equipment, concession stand at Legion Park, baseball score booths, baseball dugouts, skateboard park, shelter at Van Lieshout Park, shelter at Doyle Park, and other facility improvements at Doyle Park.
The Festival is an event that benefits the entire community. It welcomes new visitors and embraces all those who come back home for the event, as well as everyone who lives in and near the community.