FARMINGTON – After a year away, the Mac and Cheese Festival returned last week to Berg Park to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club of Farmington.
The Mac and Cheese Festival started in Durango in 2014. It was then moved to Aztec in 2016. Finally, the festival made its way to Farmington, where it has brought out hundreds of mac and cheese lovers.
The event, sponsored and organized by American General Media, sold tickets for $25 before the day with a slight increase at the door. In addition to benefiting the Boys & Girls Club, it covered all the mac and cheese as well as beer, wine and cocktail samples.
American General Media also sells booths for businesses.
“People are ready to get out – and some are wearing masks and social distancing – and get back out to enjoy an event safely,” said Tana McCalo, organizer of the mac and cheese festival.
The event was put on a little last-minute compared with previous years, McCalo said. She said normally, she would start getting the sponsors and the event set up about six months earlier. This year, she had two months.
“I kept watching to see if New Mexico was going to open, and so when I heard about it opening July 1, about mid-June – boom! Started planning,” she said.
Fewer restaurants were able to sign up because staffing has been low, McCalo said. So this year, only 10 restaurants signed up compared with 14 to 18 in previous years.
McCalo said more restaurants wanted to participate, but because of COVID-19, they weren’t able to staff enough workers to participate.
Despite a lower-than-normal turnout, McCalo said this year about 2,000 people attended. Needless to say, the mac and cheese didn’t last long. The event started at 1 p.m. and by 2 p.m., most of the restaurants had run out of their entry dish.
When festival-goers checked in at the entry gate and were asked for identification (the event was for people 21 and older), they were given a heavy-duty plastic plate with a notch out of the corner to hold wine glasses, as tasters strolled Berg Park. After attendees sampled all of the dishes from each restaurant, they used a little wooden chip to drop in the box of the mac and cheese they thought was the best.
One restaurant vying for the win was Red Lobster. It came up with a green chile macaroni, which culinary manager Benjamin Crabtree said is not on the normal menu.
“We sold out,” Crabtree said. “The last time we came was in 2019, and we took about half of the food home with us. This year, we’ve spent the last hour food-less.”
One booth that kept pumping out munchies was Raindrops’ outdoor kitchen and pizza oven set up. To display its product, the company made bagel pizza bites in the oven and served them to guests. In addition to the pizza bites, Raindrops also sponsored the designated driver tent and served sparkling cider.
San Juan County Sheriff Shane Ferrari was hanging out at the designated driver tent with Raindrops’ Brad Duncan. Ferrari said he was at the festival for two reasons.
“The first is to support the Boys & Girls Club of Farmington, and the second is because we have a booth here and I am here in support of my recruiters,” Ferrari said. “We are currently looking for San Juan County Sheriff’s deputies.”
He said the department has 15 openings.
“I think all across the (country) we’ve seen shortages of law enforcement officers, so it’s causing us to be more proactive and go out into the community and hopefully find that right applicant,” he said.
While away from the booth, Ferrari enjoyed the mac and cheese and pizza bites, but said he wasn’t able to enjoy the “adult libations.”
Ferrari said the cause of the festival was the best part of it.
“Those kids need that,” Ferrari said. “Those are the kids who don’t have direction in life, they don’t have a safe place to be after school and just what they get from the community and the sports ... it’s just something I support.”