History of Pine Island Cheese Fest – Established 1936
In July of 1911 a group of small dairies cooperated to build a Prize Winning World Record 6,000 lb. Cheese on a railroad flatcar.
By 1920 there were 43 cheese plants in the surrounding area. Half of them combined to form the Minnesota Cheese Producers Association with a large plant in Pine Island. That plant and its adjoining Butter Factory were located at the far east end of Center Street across from the park. In 1947 an even larger plant was built two blocks to the North.
One hundred years ago, the biggest cheese in the world was made in Pine Island and put on exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair in September of 1911. Mr. A.W. Parkin of Pine Island was the Minnesota State Inspector of Cheese and Instructor for the Dairy and Food Commission. He decided to bring together the Pine Island area cheese factories to produce the world’s largest cheese and bring recognition to the fine cheese factories of this area. He calculated the cheese output of eighteen local American cheese factories, determined how much of the starter and coloring would be needed by each factory in order to make all of their curds exactly the same.
He hired 28 men to build the giant cheese press that would be necessary to press all the cheese curd collected. The men built the press on a flatbed railroad car. The press weighed 4000 pounds.
He brought together five other experts in cheese making; Mr. G. Andrist of Pine Island, an owner of several area cheese factories, his brother and partner Mr. Edgar Parkin of West Concord, N. Simon, a prominent Wisconsin cheese maker and his son, N. Simon, Jr. of Appleton, Wisconsin and Mr. A.C. Worth, the champion cheese maker of the State of Wisconsin. They determined which cheese factories to include in making the cheese curd, and then transporting it to Pine Island to be placed in the cheese press.
They collected one day’s output of 3300 cows from 250 farms in a twelve-mile radius of Pine Island. This amounted to 70,000 pounds of milk. The eighteen factories processed the milk into cheese curd and brought it to the cheese press. When everything was agreed upon by the collection of experts, the curd was pressed and produced a 6000 pound piece of cheese!
The cheese was sent to the Minnesota State Fair on the railroad car and put on exhibit at the fair as the Largest Cheese in the World. It was also entered in the fair cheese competition and scored a 98 out of 100 for quality, consistency and appearance.
A newspaper article of that time predicted the future with this statement: “This is an age of big things and Pine Island’s big cheese will attract more attention and do more to advertise the town, its maker and the industry generally than almost any quantity of cheese made on exhibition in the usual way.”
The City of Pine Island and the surrounding area has a world famous heritage of which all can be proud.
Pine Island Cheese Festival started in September 1936, and was held annually through 1940 when World War II interrupted. When the festival was reborn in 1949, it was switched to a weekend in June. Since then, the cheese festival has been the opening festival of the summer in southeastern Minnesota.
Organizers in the 1950s would publicize the festival by inviting celebrities. Movie star Fred McMurray bought the festival’s first button in 1950, and singer-dancer-comedian Eddie Cantor bought the first festival badge in 1954.
This history was gathered from the following sources: Pine Island Area Historical Society and Post Bulletin.
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