Once upon a time, Swiss cheese makers created a holefilled cheese and named it after the region of origin. But Emmental wasn’t exactly a name that rolled off the tongue and Americans were already getting tired of pronouncing other cheeses like Parmigiano Reggiano, Mascarpone, and Chabichou du Poitou. So when Swiss settlers came to Sugarcreek in Ohio’s Amish Country and started making an Emmental variation in the 1850s, they made sure that it was going to have a simplified name.
They called it Swiss.
Over the years, Swiss cheese became rather popular in the area, and cheese factories continued to pop up. As newer cheesemaking technologies developed, along with faster shipping, the cheese spread to far corners of the country and, eventually, the world. Nearly 100 years later, in 1953, the Ohio Swiss Cheese Association began a festival called the Ohio Swiss Festival.
Originally created to enable local cheese makers to sell excess product, the festival still serves that purpose today. Cheese makers set up their booths in the fire station, offering huge blocks of cheese, various cheese products, and tons of free samples for festival-goers. There’s even a cheese auction with master-crafted Swiss cheese.
For cheese-lovers looking for a quick fix, there’s a booth selling grilled cheese sandwiches cooked on a hot wheel-shaped stone. It’s a simple sandwich—no condiments, sweet pickle, or tomato slices—but it is fun to watch cook. And for those low on cash, there’s a Swiss Cheese Eating Contest or a People’s Choice Cheese Judging that takes volunteers.
What I like about the Ohio Swiss Festival is that it’s much more than just a cheese festival. Its ambiguous festival name also encourages a celebration of the Swiss culture. Sugarcreek Village is known as the “Little Switzerland of Ohio” and I love that it reminds everyone how it got its name, thanks to plenty of vibrant Swiss music and competitions that include the steintossen (stonethrowing competition), the yodeling contest, the Swiss costume contest, and the Big Wheel Race. And because it takes place in Amish Country, there are plenty of Amish elements, including fry pies and mouth-watering apple fritters. There’s also a seemingly Amish game where you can bet a quarter on a number, hoping that a live mouse, once released, will pick that numbered hole to find safety. It is fun and any money you win can be used to buy fritters or more cheese!
Bigger than the typical town festival, the Ohio Swiss Festival offers a ton of entertainment, including a grand parade, live music, a craft tent, food concessions, rides, and games. But because the festival is bigger than the village itself, free parking may be hard to come by. Most places will charge you $5 to park.