Story by Maria Lenhart, Illustration by Emily Wallace
That old childhood standby is all grown up and something to celebrate. Festivals across the nation dish up myriad ways to enjoy the ooey-gooey treat. Here’s a sampling of the country’s best mac and cheese festivals.
Move over crab cakes. Held in May, the new Baltimore Mac and Cheese Festival transforms the downtown Power Plant Live! entertainment district into a cheesy universe of food trucks, live entertainment and over 30 kinds of mac and cheese available to taste. An array of vendors put forth their best mac and cheese efforts, with festival goers invited to vote for their favorite. Want to see what type of beverage pairs well with mac and cheese? Adult participants also have the chance to sample a variety of craft beer, wine, bourbon and whisky from artisanal vendors.
Located just a block from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the festival is close to some of the city’s key attractions, including the Maryland Science Center and the National Aquarium.
Inspired by childhood memories of the humble dish, the Brandon family, owners of American General Media of San Luis Obispo, founded the area’s Macaroni & Cheese Festival eight years ago and a sister event in Bakersfield two years later. Held at the Avila Beach Golf Resort in early June, the San Luis Obispo event features mac and cheese creations from over 25 local restauranteurs, live music and selections from dozens of local wineries and craft breweries. There’s plenty else to explore nearby, including spectacular coastal scenery, Hearst Castle and the celebrated wine region of Paso Robles.
Bakersfield’s Macaroni & Cheese Festival takes place in April on California State University’s Bakersfield campus. Among the event’s highlight is a competition between local chefs.
Started last February, the Denver Mac & Cheese Festival is an evening, adults-only event where participants are supplied with commemorative sporks and unlimited samplings of mac and cheese from local restaurants and chefs. Past riffs on the dish have included Gypsy Q’s noodles with kimchi and goat cheese and Shanty Supper Club’s version with creamy Parmesan sauce and fried prosciutto. Tickets also include access to select beer, wine and liquor sampling and the chance to vote for the best dish.
The downtown Denver area has a growing roster of cultural attractions to explore, including the stunning Denver Art Museum, with its extensive galleries of Native American art, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
The NoMi Mac & Cheese Fest, held in January in North Miami’s Griffing Park, features live R&B music, children’s activities, arts and crafts and the Mac and Cheese Showdown, a competition to find the best bowl of mac and cheese in South Florida. There’s also a baked dessert competition and a Tasting Tent where local restaurants and vendors offer dozens of food samples to try.
In the vicinity are a range of cultural and nature-oriented diversions, among them the Museum of Contemporary Art North Miami, horseback riding in Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park and kayaking on the Oleta River.
In a city that knows how to party, the NOLA Mac ’n Cheese Fest, founded in 2017, is a family-friendly event that rocks with live bands from House of Blues at Louis Armstrong Park in mid-October. Some 40 local restaurants and vendors, among them The Big Cheezy, Gonzo’s Smokehouse & BBQ and Out of the Box, get creative with locally inspired riffs on mac and cheese where ingredients include everything from crawfish to pulled pork and hot sausage.
The park and surrounding Treme neighborhood are rich in African American heritage sites, including Congo Square, a gathering place and music venue dating back to the 18th century.
The Great Mac ’n Cheese Melt-Off heats things up at the SoMa StrEat Food Park in mid-January. More than a dozen of the Bay Area’s best food trucks and pop-up shops gather at the venue, an outdoor space equipped with carnival games, Wi-Fi, TV screens and heat lamps, to compete and offer samplings. Offerings at the two-day event may include Little Red Riding Truck’s mushroom cheese spaetzle, Batter Up’s deep fried mac and cheese corndog or Sip ’n Slurp’s bacon and truffles mac ‘n cheese.
The burgeoning SoMa (South of Market) neighborhood is a dynamic cultural hub that includes the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Contemporary Jewish Museum and Museum of the African Diaspora.