LOWVILLE — The line for cheesecake stretched for yards and yards on Saturday: down the Lowville Volunteer Fire Department driveway, around the corner and down the block in between the vendors long before the massive no-bake sheet cheesecake was unveiled and cut at noon.
Tim and Janis Croissette of Allentown, Pa. said they come to Lewis County every year to ride their four-wheelers, but the Cream Cheese Festival is often the highlight of their trip, noting there is a touch of extra nostalgia because the Kraft plant near them closed down a few years ago.
“The cheesecake, the vendors, we just like all of it,” Mrs. Croissette said.
In its 15th year, the festival can still offer a surprise to returnees.
This year, that surprise was a new flavor addition to a large part of the 8-foot by 20-foot cheesecake: chocolate hazelnut.
“Every time we get a new flavor we try to include it in the cheesecake for the festival,“ said Brian Western, materials manager at Kraft Heinz in the village.
This seems especially fitting, he said, because the idea for the Philadelphia Ready-to-Eat Cheesecake Filling came from a man working at the local plant.
“He had the idea and told us about it. We gave it to the Research and Development people and this is what they came up with,” Mr. Western said, “The code name while it was in development was Project Stevie, because that was his name.”
Mr. Western has been involved with creating the cheesecake all 14 years of its existence.
The cake, weighing about 1,500 pounds, is cut into 3,500 pieces with a rake-like tool that is dragged through it in both directions, dividing the creamy expanse into neat and relatively easy to serve pieces.
According to Mr. Western, it takes about 15 people four hours to make the cake, including the placement of 100 boxes worth of graham crackers edge-to-edge for the crust.
He said even though it takes a lot of work and coordination to make it happen, when he and his team see people lining up to get at the cheesecake as soon as the festival begins and waiting an hour for a piece, it’s “really good to see,” and makes it all worth it.
“What do I like? Oh, everything,” said Julie Cervantes of Chittenango, who has tried to bring new people with her every year for the past four years.
Live music was played throughout the six-hour event by Shawn Corbett, Ransom, Hot Kogan, Doc Yukon and Revolution on the main stage and many others on a second stage behind the American Legion.
The cream cheese graffiti wall inspired many a cheesy artist to try his or her finger painting skills and games like cream cheese cornhole, a cream cheese eating competition and cream cheese ladder ball were among the quirky cream cheese family fun at the well attended event.
Veterans Memorial Park was transformed again this year into the “Children’s Discovery Park,” complete with a rock climbing wall, a zip-line and many action-packed inflatable activities among other attractions.
Adam Prattz of Lee Center near Rome said while his girlfriend had seen promotions about the event, it was his insistence that got them in the car and in the line for cheesecake.
“This is my first year and the cheesecake was really good,” he said.
Mr. Prattz and his girlfriend are among those that proved the effectiveness of festival committee chairman Jeremiah S. Papineu’s marketing strategy this year.
“Jeremiah has done a great job promoting the Cream Cheese Festival further away this year, like in Rome and Syracuse,” said the county Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, noting that it is an opportunity for people in the county to come together and “enjoy what we have” as well.
Mr. Papineau said that while the festival attracts between 10,000 and 15,000 people every year based upon a professional estimate, he is hoping to harness technology like a drone or strategically placed time-lapse cameras to see if the estimates have been correct.
As long as the cheesy fun keeps coming, many attendees said they are happy to join the line and be counted.