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Watch now: Cheese takes center stage at beloved festival in Arthur

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Arthur's Amish County Cheese Festival kicked off on Saturday with the ceremonial cheese cutting downtown.

ARTHUR — Despite heavy rain causing two main Saturday events to cancel at the Amish Country Cheese Festival, people still came out to have fun — and eat hundreds of pounds of cheese.

“The rain dampened that a little bit, but it’s still great,” said one festival host, Elva Otto.

Otto, from Arthur, was impressed by how many people came to the festival.

"I think they’re eager to come out, and we always have two more days to look forward to,” he said.

The morning, though cloudy and cool, began with bright smiles at the ceremonial cutting of the cheese wheel.

Cheese Cutting

The Amish Country Cheese Festival kicks off with community members cutting a 150-pound block of cheddar cheese in front of the cheese tent on Saturday in downtown Arthur.

However, the cheese wheel almost did not make it to the festival on time.

“It was somewhat of a hurdle yesterday because this 150-pound wheel that we knew we had to have here missed the truck yesterday coming from Michigan,” said Joseph Yoder, who owns and runs Heartland Deli and Delights with his family.

Brian Cordes

Brian Cordes finishes his last pieces of cheese, securing his ninth victory at the cheese-eating contest at Arthur's Amish Country Cheese Festival on Saturday.

The 150-pound cheese wheel was stranded at a factory in Michigan until yesterday. Fortunately, Yoder also manages a furniture and cabinet shop. One of the drivers was unloading cabinets in Michigan and was able to bring the cheese to Arthur in time for the festival.

“He got here at 9 o’ clock last night,” said Yoder.

The wheel is 150 pounds of cheese that the Yoder family is giving away to festival-goers over the Labor Day weekend. They are giving away a total of 800 pounds of cheese, but there’s much more cheese than that.

“In the store, we probably have roughly 2,500 pounds of cheese,” said Yoder.

This is the first Amish Country Cheese Festival for the Yoder family, who took over the business in the December and January before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The biggest learning curve was to know how much product to have,” said Yoder, who took 2020, when the cheese festival was canceled, in stride. “It was a good thing for us because it helped us get going with our business and kind of get our feet in the door.”

“This is our big festival of the year,” said Stephanie Wierman, president of the Arthur Area Association of Commerce. “People visit from all over.”

Sometimes they even have international visitors, who visit to compete in the international cheese curling competition.

The festival leaders had to cancel the parade and the cheese curling competition this year, which was disappointing for several.

Rained-out at the cheese festival

Festival-goers take cover under tents and umbrellas as rain descends on the Amish Country Cheese Festival in Arthur on Saturday.

“One year in the past, we had a team come from Australia to compete,” said Wierman. “They had a great time.”

But since the event needs to be held outside, it was canceled along with the parade.

However, the junior and senior cheese-eating contest still took place.

Ten-year-old Samantha Steward of Arthur won the junior cheese-eating contest by eating most of a half-pound block of cheddar cheese.

Brian Cordes defended his reign as the fastest cheese-eater by winning the contest for the ninth year in a row, consuming a full pound of cheddar cheese in 4 minutes and 20 seconds.

“It’s a fun thing to do, a good way to get out,” said Cordes of the event.

He will probably return to defend his title for a 10th year, he said.

The festival continues through Labor Day weekend, with the cheese-carving contest scheduled to take place at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The Amish Country Cheese Festival concludes on Monday.

Both Sunday and Monday are expected to have drier weather.

Farm Focus: How agricultural keeps driving the Central Illinois economy

Take a look at this year's special Farm Focus section, which showcases Central Illinois agricultural producers. Have a story idea for our next edition? Email scott.perry@lee.net

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