story by Cyd King
FAYETTEVILLE — People in Arkansas take their cheese dip seriously.
Everyone has a favorite. Carpool and water cooler conversations evolve around whose cheese dip has the best taste, texture, consistency — even "scarfability."
Cheese dip lovers in Northwest and western Arkansas may decide for themselves at the inaugural Northwest Arkansas Cheese Dip Classic, to be held May 5 — Cinco de Mayo — at the Washington County Fairgrounds. The first-ever Fayetteville Foam Fest, a beer tasting with more than 300 beers from around the world, will be held at the fairgrounds later that evening. Organizers are calling the two events the Fayetteville Sip and Dip.
In 2010, John McClure of the Southern Cheese Dip Academy orchestrated the first-ever World Cheese Dip Championship (WCDC) at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock. Some 6,000 people inhaled upward of 225 gallons of cheese dip created from more than 30 unique recipes. It was a no-holes-barred contest, with professionals and amateurs battling for bragging rights and a custom-made ceramic chip-and-dip tray for a trophy. A second annual championship was held last fall at War Memorial Stadium.
McClure had hoped to introduce the Northwest Arkansas Cheese Dip Classic in Fayetteville last fall, but the sanctioned event in Little Rock gobbled up too much of his time.
However, he says it's "game on" for Fayetteville in 2012.
Categories for the local event include "Big Dipper" awards to the professional overall winner and the amateur overall winner; a “People's Choice" award for professionals and amateurs; and a "Best Booth" award.
Festivalgoers and local celebrities serving as judges include Maudie Schmitt, owner of Café Rue Orleans restaurant; Case Dighero, food and beverage manager at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan; and KNWA meteorologist Dan Skoff.
Entry fees are $125 for professionals and $100 for amateurs. Professional teams are deemed those who have one or more members with any type of culinary training.
Every team gets a 10-foot by 10-foot tented space, electricity, two 8-foot tables, two chairs, a team sign, chips and 2-ounce sample cups. Additional booth space is available for $75.
Teams must bring enough ingredients to prepare at least five gallons of their cheese dip, but they're encouraged to make more since more cheese dip could equal more votes.
“It’s all about the votes,” says McClure.
Award winners will receive cash prizes and trophies created by a local artist. For the more serious foodies, the stakes are high.
The professional division winners from the Fayetteville competitions receive $500 and free entry into the 2012 WCDC, along with hotel accommodations for championship weekend. The professional division champion at the 2012 WCDC will have the entry paid to the 2013 New Orleans Roadfood Festival, held along Bourbon and Royal Streets in the French Quarter.
McClure, an energetic organizer and fastidious planner with a deep love for good Southern cuisine, was drawn to the Southern Cheese Dip Academy after seeing a 20-minute documentary about cheese dip in 2009. The academy's founder, Little Rock lawyer Nick Rogers, set out to research the history of cheese dip in Arkansas, and the result was “In Queso Fever: A Movie About Cheese Dip.” Rogers traced cheese dip back to 1935, when a central Arkansas restaurateur named Blackie Donnally began serving it at his Mexican Chiquito eatery. In Rogers' film, he gives Donnally credit for the phrase, "Let's go get some cheese dip."
McClure and the Arkansas Convention & Event Marketing Inc., which he founded, paired up with Rogers and the World Cheese Dip Championship was born.
Chipping and cheese dipping on May 5 takes place from 2 to 6 p.m., and sipping is from 5 to 9 p.m. Admission is $10 to the cheese dip competition, $30 to Foam Fest and $35 for both.
A portion of the proceeds from the events will go to the Single Parent Scholarship Fund of Northwest Arkansas and Feed Fayetteville.
Entry forms are available at the Cheese Dip website (English and Spanish).