Cheese rolling is a high-risk* sport which involves chasing a high-speed wheel of cheese at breakneck speed down a very steep hill in one specific town in the south-west of England.
Oh, and if you choose to participate you’ll also need to contend with 4,999 other manic cheese runners on all sides, all of whom are intent on hurling themselves down the hillside in pursuit of the runaway Double Gloucester.
*A convincing contender to be considered an “extreme sport” if ever there was one.
Not to be confused with Cheese Rolling, which is a related (but far less well-known) dairy-based sport ... and which was the inspiration for the creation of this blog.
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Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling
Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is a four-day event which takes place annually on Cooper’s Hill, Gloucestershire, England.
A wheel of “Double Gloucester” cheese is rolled down Cooper’s Hill four times and participants chase chase after it as it rolls down the 180m hill.
Because the cheese can achieve speeds of up to 70 mph (110 km/h) and has a head start on the athletes, it’s the fastest man and woman in each case that are declared the champions and receive the cheese as their prize.
Originally held by and for the people who live in the local village of Brockworth, it has since become a world-famous event.
According to the organizers, the venue can accommodate a maximum of 5,000 attendees. Following around 15,000 attendance in 2009, the event was canceled for 2010 due to security concerns. The event was allowed to be held again in 2011.
What is Double Gloucester?
Since the 16th century, Gloucester (pronounced Gloster) has been a populare semi-hard cheese made in Gloucestershire, England.
The cheese comes in two varieties: Single and Double, both of which are traditionally prepared from the milk of Gloucester cattle. Both have a hard texture and a natural rind, but:
- Single Gloucester is crumblier, lighter in texture, and lower in fat.
- Double Gloucester is aged for longer than Single Gloucester, giving it a richer and more savory flavor. It’s also a tad firmer.
Origins of this Strange Tradition
The custom is claimed to have originated in Roman times and is believed to have been carried out for the past 200 years. There are two theories about how the event started.
According to the first, it arose as a requirement for retaining grazing rights on the common.
The second is that the custom of rolling objects down the hill has pagan origins. It is believed that bundles of flaming brushwood were rolled down the hill to symbolize the arrival of the New Year following the winter solstice. The traditional scattering of buns, biscuits, and sweets at the top of the hill by the Master of Ceremonies is linked to this notion.
From 1941 through 1954, a wooden dummy was employed due to wartime food restrictions.
Yellow like Lady’s Bedstraw (!)
The flower Lady’s Bedstraw is the source of Double Gloucester Cheese’s characteristic rich yellow color.
These dried herbs were used to stuff mattresses in medieval Europe because the coumarin aroma of the plants functions as a flea repellent.
The blooms were also used to coagulate milk in cheese production (hence the plant’s name, which comes from the Greek word gala, which means ‘milk’) and to color the cheese double Gloucester in Gloucestershire.