Report from British Cheese Festival: Yes, There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Cheese

Smithsonian Surprising Science blogger Sarah Zielinski, discusses a recent visit to the Great British Cheese Festival. We are officially jealous

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Somewhere around the 40th or 50th sample, I hit the metaphorical wall. No more, I thought.

It was a sad discovery: Yes, you can eat too much cheese.

I was munching my way through the cheese tent at the Great British Cheese Festival with a friend a few weeks ago. We had decided to go to the festival for three reasons: It’s held on the grounds of the amazing Cardiff Castle in Wales; Cardiff is where Doctor Who and Torchwood are filmed (we’re both fans); and we love cheese.

Samples of Lyburn Stoney Cross cheese. Photo by Sarah Zielinski.

We arrived on Saturday evening and quickly fulfilled our geeky sci-fi desires, leaving Sunday for castle touring (it was truly spectacular) and cheese.

We started in the drink tent, where there were a couple dozen kegs of apple ciders, a few perries (pear ciders), and a good selection of beers. Half-pints of cider in hand, we set out for the two tents of British foods, where vendors sold fresh Welsh meats, baked goods and ice creams. But we quickly moved on to the main attraction.

My friend later told me that she first thought the cheese tent was too small. She was wrong. There were more than two dozen cheese makers set up behind tables and refrigerated cases, each of them offering tastes of two to eight cheeses. We moved around the tent, pushing through the crowd to grab samples for each other.

There were blue cheeses that ranged from strong to stinky. A fresh and light caerphilly. A smoked cheddar that tasted like I was sitting beside a campfire. Wensleydale, like Wallace and Gromit eat. And cheddars with whisky, with cranberries, with ginger.

At one point, a young woman with a large tank on her back walked up and offered us small cups of fresh whole organic milk. It was the best milk I’ve ever tasted.

The "cheese tossing" contest outside Cardiff Castle. Photo by Sarah Zielinski.

A few samples short of completing the circuit, I had to admit that I had reached my cheese limit. We made our purchases (a caerphilly, a blue, a plain cheddar, the cheddar with ginger, and some fresh butter) and headed back outside, where something called “cheese tossing” was taking place.

Fortunately, that was not a euphemism for the consequences of overeating—it was kind of like a water balloon contest. Two people stand close to each other and throw a log-like cheese (actually, a stand-in synthetic cheese) back and forth, taking one step back between each toss. The record from last year was over 50 feet, but no one we saw got close to it. Throwing cheese around is surprisingly difficult, as my friend and I discovered when we tried it ourselves.

Later that week, we also discovered the recovery time for “too much cheese.” Thankfully, it’s only about three days.

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