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Grant helps market foodie event in Ellsworth

The 2018 Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival will once again have the Milk and Cookie taste pairing event. File photo1 / 3
Fresh, hand-dipped Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery cheese curds are one of the many cheese curd dishes at the Cheese Curd Festival each year. File photo2 / 3
Matthew Beranek of River Falls flips jalapeno poppers during the 2017 Cheese Curd Festival in East End Park. His booth called Smokey Treats BBQ was one of the many food options at the event. File photo3 / 3

As plans for the 2018 Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival are already underway, the promotion of the event will once again have funding from the Joint Effort Marketing (JEM) Grant through the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Kim Beebe, member of the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce administrative team, said this is the second year they have received funds to help promote the Cheese Curd Festival as a foodie event. Last year they received $25,900 and this year they are receiving $13,900 to help advertise and promote the event. Beebe said.

This grant money is strictly to be used for promoting the event; the goal is to help the event become self-sustaining.

"The whole goal is to market the event and to grow attendance," Beebe said. "[Have] two years to do this, then sustained on its own."

Beebe said the Cheese Curd Festival originally started as a community event for people to get together locally, but it has expanded beyond just the local area. She said they felt people attending were somewhat disappointed that there weren't more cheese curd foods and events featured.

With the help of the JEM grant to advertise the festival as a foodie event, Beebe said the pressure wasn't as great with marketing worries. The planning committee was then able to focus on new and exciting changes they could bring to the festival.

In 2017, people had the chance to try more foods and drinks from the area. Beebe said they expanded the tasting events for the festival. One of those was the Milk and Cookie Pairing Event. For $1, people could try a shot size glass of different types of milk (such as sea salt caramel milk) with a cookie. This event, Beebe said, was very well received and one of the crowd favorites.

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls Food Science Department also participated in the Cheese Curd Festival by debuting a new flavor of ice cream created for the ice cream taste testing event. The new ice cream, called Mooberry Cheese Curd Swirl, featured cheese curds in the ice cream.

Attendees were also able to vote for their favorite food at the festival. At the end of the two-day affair, the Chamber of Commerce awarded the "People's Choice Award" to Smokey Treats BBQ for its "a beautiful thing cheese curd stuffed smoked jalapeno poppers."

Beebe pointed out that not only have they added more cheese curd foods, but also more of the Sconnie BBQ foods items. The festival also now features many of the local beers, ciders and wines made in the area.

With the help of the of the JEM grant, Beebe said they will continue to promote and grow the Cheese Curd Festival as a foodie event.

In past years, the Cheese Curd Festival had seen a decline in attendees, Beebe said, ranging between 1,500-2,000 people. But that number was far exceeded in 2017.

"Amazing, we drew 5,000 people last year," Beebe said.

While a majority of people came from the Twin Cities area, they also had attendees from Florida, Texas and Georgia.

The benefit of having more people coming to the event, Beebe said, is not only more revenue coming in for the festival, but also more people coming to Ellsworth.

"Throughout the two-day event, driving revenue to local businesses," Beebe said.

Many attendees inquired about local lodging and camping places so they could stay in the area, Beebe said. During this time, the hope is that people see something that interests them that will draw them to come back at other times during the year.

"What we are hoping, festival guests that come in to town, come back to visit," Beebe said. "Maybe people will want to move here or start a business here."

An additional benefit to the community comes from all the volunteer hours that are put in by the community.

"Local non-profit organizations have partnered with us to recruit volunteers for the festival," Beebe said. "For each hour these volunteers work at the festival, $10 goes back to their non-profit to support their work in the community."

In addition, Beebe said depending on the profits of the Cheese Curd Central booth the Chamber shares a portion of the profits with local groups. In 2017, $6,000 was distributed to nine local groups.

"The Cheese Curd Festival is the main fundraiser for our organization and proceeds support our general operating expenses and community work through our various committees," Beebe said. "However, it's very exciting to see a portion of the festival's proceeds supporting even more community programs and initiatives through these non-profit organizations."