Free cheese!
The free curd booth at the Curd Festival was certainly a crowd favourite. Van Dusen photo

Making new friends
A Tyrannosaurus rex was wandering the grounds of the Curd Festival, much to the enjoyment of the children in attendance.
Van Dusen photo

ST. ALBERT – Free squeaky cheese bits for all – after you pay $10 general admission – was certainly one of the main attractions of the annual St. Albert Curd Festival Aug. 14-18; but there were other drawing cards that had little to do with cheese making.

Take the eight-foot, bright yellow Burmese Python, a constrictor brought to the festival by Papanack Zoo based in Wendover, along with some other animals. Handler, Neil Sherry let the impressive male snake slither along the ground where enthralled children could briefly touch it. Sherry said he wasn’t concerned the non-poisonous viper might see a youngster as dinner because it could detect through sense of smell that kids aren’t a food source. A passing rabbit might not get off so easily.

And how about that Tyrannosaurus rex! Led by a couple of handlers, it walked the grounds adjacent to the cheese factory (celebrating 125 years in business throughout 2019) exciting kids and startling their mothers. Neither reptile was seen at the free curd counter.

Some displays were more in line with an agricultural festival including antique machinery, panels attached to a fence recounting the history of the dairy cooperative, and a display commemorating the fact that just the previous Sunday François Latour and an army of volunteers had won back the Guinness World Record title for most threshers (243) operating in one place, on a field close to the curd festival site.

Former factory manager Réjean Ouimet, who still helps out around the place, said the fact the two events were held back-to-back didn’t noticeably impact the festival attendance of several thousand over the five days.

While daytime activities included a wide array of bouncy rides and BMX stunt riders were geared to entertaining the younger set, night time events were aimed at adults, including several concerts starring major Québecois and Franco-Ontarian entertainers, such as Ouimet’s singer-songwriter daughter, Melissa. On Sunday, visitors were still marvelling at the antics of hypnotist Messmer that they saw on Thursday.

Some 28 area dairy farms are members of the cheese factory coop which takes in 120,000 litres of milk a day, transforming it into 2.4 million kg of curd a year and other cheese products. Production requires 180 full-time workers to handle an average of 500 orders a day from 2,000 sales outlets.

As described on the panels, perhaps the most memorable episode in coop history is recent… the great fire of 2013 that levelled the factory, leading to a $30-million rebuild and expansion.