Montgomery County fair grills up cheesy record -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated at 6 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2013.

At the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, a man called “The Big Cheese” is chasing a record that could give the Wisconsin State Fair a run for its money.

Ed Hogan, who runs the cheese stand at the county’s agricultural fair, wants to make a record-breaking 10,000 grilled cheese sandwiches — more than the fair has ever seen.

The volunteers who run the stand have come close to their goal in past years, but have fallen a few thousand sandwiches short. About 8,400 were sold at the fair last year.

The Montgomery County Agricultural Fair, which kicks off Friday in Gaithersburg, is celebrating 60 years of The Big Cheese, also the name of Hogan’s stand. Blocks of cheese were first sold there in 1953.

“We started the first year with just one wheel of cheese, and just grew from there,” Hogan said.

The bread, butter and cheddar sandwiches made their debut at the fair in 1986, after four of the stand’s volunteers suggested them.

“When they first started to make grilled cheese sandwiches, they had a grill that would make two at a time,” Hogan said. “Now, we have a grill that makes 20 sandwiches at a time.”

Lines still form in front of the stand during the fair, but they move quickly. No one waits more than four minutes for a sandwich, he said.

The butter and bread come from local producers in Frederick and West Virginia. But the mild, melty cheddar cheese in the heart of the sandwich is purchased from a factory, Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese, in Kiel, Wis.

Company representative Kay Schmitz said the factory also sells hundreds of pounds of cheese curds to the Wisconsin State Fair, and produces cheddar wheels that weigh in at 12,000 pounds apiece.

“Those are as wide and as high as a semi,” she said.

It took five volunteers to roll one of the six 500-pound wheels into The Big Cheese’s walk-in refrigerator when they arrived from Wisconsin on July 31.

“We do use some Maryland cheddar cheese, but there’s no creamery in Maryland that can produce the amount that we need,” Hogan said.

The 500-pound wheels, aged at least six months, are about 2 feet high and 2 feet wide, Schmitz said.

Volunteers at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair used 1,000-pound wheels of Wisconsin cheddar in past years, but had to downsize when the walk-in refrigerator was built with a narrow doorway.

Six volunteers were needed to lift one of the 500-pound wheels, which will be on display in a refrigerated shed next to The Big Cheese.

The sandwiches, which sell for $3.50, helped the concession stand bring in a $64,000 profit at last year’s fair.

Alicia Clugh of Rockville, who heads the Maryland Cheese Guild, said the sandwiches are a staple of the fair experience.

“I would hope anybody who has grown up in Montgomery County has had them,” she said.

Hogan said the amount of cheddar used at The Big Cheese rivals the Wisconsin State Fair’s total.

A representative for the Wisconsin State Fair said its grilled cheese stand bought 4,800 pounds of cheddar for sandwiches last year. Hogan’s stand bought 3,000 pounds of cheese this year.

Hogan has run the concession stand for 13 years and embraces the nickname The Big Cheese.

“I’m a vegetarian,” he said. “I don’t eat meat, but I do like cheese.”