Nov 6, 2012

Cheeses of the World - Part Sixteen
Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake

What series on cheese would be complete without a nod to the famous Cooper's Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake?

After sifting through pages of research, viewing countless videos, and checking out numerous websites I can only come to one conclusion. These people are nuts!

Once a year an enormous crowd gathers at Cooper's Hill (sometimes called the Cotswold Edge) in the village of Brockworth near Glouster to watch competitors race each other down a sheer slope in pursuit of an eight pound wheel of cheese. The slope is so steep it's impossible to keep your footing and the competitors fall, tumble, slide, and cartwheel downwards. At the bottom is a group of volunteers ready to catch them, break their fall, or just move them quickly aside so they don't get run down by those behind them. And the reward for the competitors? The first one down gets the wheel of cheese they were chasing.

No one's sure how this got started, but records of it date back to the early 1800s and some family records earlier than that. It's held annually on the U.K. Spring Bank Holiday, which is the last Monday in May. Prior to the event, volunteers spend two weeks cleaning the slope, erecting fences at the top and sides (to keep the spectators at bay), and build a wall of hay bales at the bottom.

The cheeses used in the event are 8 pound wheels of Double Goucesters, and are hand made by Diana Smart of Churcham, who uses the milk from her own cows. You have to be at least 18 years of age to participate, and there is a maximum of 15 participants in each race. In between the downhill races there are uphill races, to allow the ambulances time to return from taking the seriously injured to the hospital. And it's not just the competitors who get injured. It's not unheard of for a spectator to get hit by a flying cheese or a flying competitor.

Really, this is an event that has to be seen to be believed, so I found this video on YouTube:

There are also some awesome pictures to be found HERE from Big Picture.

One thing my research did not turn up, is why it's called Cheese Rolling and Wake. I can only surmise that for those who finish dead last, a wake will be held. ;-)

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Not to be out done, there's also a Canadian version of this event held on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia. The rewards in this competition are an 11 pound wheel of cheese and a season's ski pass for two for Whistler. This is more of a family event with seminars on cheesemaking, costume competitions, and games and activities for the children. You can find out more about it on their official site.

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