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Nibble on This: The Oregon Cheese Festival Tastes Great

Admit it. You love cheese. There’s something about it to makes you smile.

It may be the distinct, silky flavors or how each bite accents different wines. Here's a place where you and other turophiles - cheese connoisseurs - can savor the best Oregon's creameries have to offer.

The 14th annual Oregon Cheese Festival rolls out March 17-18 as more than 6,000 people are expected to visit Central Point for a weekend with great tastes. The festival, a farmers market-style event staged by the Oregon Cheese Guild at Rogue Creamery, 311 N Front St. (HYW 99), brings more than 30 of the best craft cheesemakers from across the United States to Southern Oregon.

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It’s an opportunity to sample a variety of cheeses and discover how they pair with wines, beers, ciders and even distilled spirits. It’s also a rare opportunity to meet the people who make the cheese.

"These are the finest handmade cheeses in the country," event coordinator Claira Cummings says, "and this is the only time of year that all these creameries gather together under one roof. People can come and shake hands with the cheesemakers and winemakers because they are all right there. You can ask them questions and they can tell you their stories."

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The festival gets started Friday, March 16, with the annual Cheesemakers Dinner, a three-hour culinary adventure. Throughout the evening, cheeses produced by the guild's newest members are incorporated into each the dish, Claira says. And, all four courses are paired with an Oregon beer or wine.

The dinner starts at 6 p.m. with appetizers at Lark’s Restaurant at the Inn at the Commons in Medford. Seating is limited to 144 people and the event typically is sold out by early March. Dinner tickets are $125 and includes a cheese reception and drinks.

Central Point’s Artisan Corridor – home for Rogue Creamery, Lillie Belle Farms chocolates and Ledger David Cellars – will be busy the following two days as cheese lovers arrive for hours of cheese nibblings and pairings. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Look for food trucks, vendors and even classes on how to embrace your inner cheesehead.

There’s a tent set aside as a 30-person classroom. There you can learn how to pair cheeses with foods and drinks as well as how to creatively “use cheese in everyday life,” Claira says. Think savory cannoli.

“We bring in experts from all over. We’re bringing in (Wine Spectator columnist and author) David Gibbons on Saturday and Sunday,” she says. Gibbons also will serve as the events master of ceremonies.

Advance one-day tickets are $15; $20 at the door.

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