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Cheese and wine keep hundreds coming back to Cheddar Cheese Festival in Adams

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ADAMS — Catching the eyes of bystanders was a 15-inch-tall block of cheddar cheese sculpted by Jerry S. Merrill into a mouse Saturday morning at the fifth annual Cheddar Cheese Festival in the village.

“How cute!” exclaimed S. Lucy Priolo, a 77-year-old Watertown resident, as she briefly stopped to admire the creation of Mr. Merrill, a renowned snow sculptor from Rodman who’s carved cheese here since the start of the festival.

Cars were parked bumper-to-bumper on downtown streets at about 10 a.m. for the daylong festival, hosted by the Adams Revitalization Committee. Hundreds of revelers enjoyed a wide array of activities, including live music, shopping at vendors’ booths, cheese and wine tastings, discounts at restaurants, a rubber duck race on Sandy Creek and activities for children at Six Town Meeting Hall on East Church Street.

Mr. Merrill, 72, said he makes a different cheese creation each year using clay sculpting tools for the enjoyment of spectators. He swapped smiles with Mrs. Priolo after she complimented his creation, which depicted a mouse hoisting up a piece of cheese.

“My wife has asked me if I like sculpting. I said no, but I like shooting the breeze with people,” quipped Mr. Merrill, adding that it typically takes a couple of hours to finish a cheese sculpture.

Sampling and buying cheese and wine keep people coming back every year to the festival, which pays homage to Great Lakes Cheese of Adams as a large employer in the community. On Saturday morning, a line of about 25 people waited to sample and buy cheese at the Great Lakes booth. Featured this year were 2.5-pound blocks of cheddar cheese aged 3 years priced at $10, said Susan L. Creighton. Mrs. Creighton, who was among eight volunteers from the company at the festival, said that string cheese made at the company’s Empire Cheese plant in Cuba also made its debut.

“We might sell maybe 2,000 to 3,000 pounds of cheese today,” she said, adding that the line of customers typically stays active throughout the day.

Cheese curd aficionados stopped by a booth manned by The Cheese Store of Watertown, which sold a variety of flavored cheese curd. The business buys cheese curd in bulk quantities from Great Lakes Cheese, and it then makes its own special flavors such as hot pepper, garlic, chives and Italian, said employee Jessica L. Dobson-Tufo.

“There’s definitely a lot of local people who like cheese curds, and if they move out of the area they come back to buy them from us,” she said.

Cheese sold at the festival was complemented by wine samples offered by six wineries form the region. Jessica A. Mooney, an employee of the Thousand Islands Winery of Alexandria Bay, said she advises people about which wines go well with cheeses and other food.

Featured this year was a chocolate-flavored carbernet launched by the winery about a year ago, which tastes “like a chocolate-covered cherry,” she said. She said that a German wine, called Gewürztraminer, goes well with seafood, Asian cuisine or hot dogs.

“It has like a ginger spiciness with a semi-sweet aroma of rose petals and apricot,” she said. “But the flavor has a spiciness as kind of an end-note.”

Florida couple Thomas R. and Candy A. Thayer were in the audience watching the LaFargeville-based Country Classic Cloggers dance on Saturday. The couple, who stay at a campground in Holly during the summer months, attended the festival for the first time after being invited by Adams Center couple Edward R. and Jenni R. Miller.

“We already got the wine, and we’re going to get the cheese next,” Mrs. Thayer said.

Mr. Miller, who took second place in the macaroni-and-cheese cook-off last year, decided to take the year off. He plans to return as a contestant next year, though, by competing against his granddaughter from Adams Center, Sierra L. Amelio.

“We’ll try to beat each other,” he said.

Grilled chicken sold by the South Jefferson Lions Club is another staple at the festival. Robert T. Walker, who said he has been grilling chicken at Lions Club fundraisers since 1977, boasted that the group grills “the best chicken in the north country.” The group grilled 160 half-chickens on Saturday morning, sold at $6 apiece to benefit the club.

“People here call it the fireman’s recipe,” he said. “It has a special mix of certain spices, vinegar and oil that make it distinctive.”

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