As I walk down the third floor hall of the JW Marriott in Austin, Texas, the smell of cheese gets stronger.
This moment has been SXSW and I'm about to make a return visit to Wisconsin Cheese's Cheeselandia, a veritable cheese-stravaganza that's inevitably the thing I think about while I'm staring into the middle distance at my desk on any given Wednesday.. I'm at
My objective: eat an unseemly amount of cheese, because this, if nothing else, is what it means to be a culture reporter.
Cheeselandia is a two-day follow-up to last year's offering of a 70-foot cheese board inside a barn constructed by Wisconsin Cheese. It was arguably one of the most buzzed-about events of SXSW -- one that seemed so delightful and random that the question "why" was irrelevant.
And that's saying something. In 2018, SXSW brought in about 432,500 people for sessions, showcases, expos and parties covering not just music, film and interactive content, but a wide range of topics like education, environmentalism, gaming and marketing.
At an event that has just about everything, it's a feat standing out.
At Cheeselandia, though, there's a line out the door and down the hall. Attendees can load up plates with cheese and crackers, try fondue and cheese curds, or grab a glass of champagne off a metal holder built around a woman's dress. There are snow cones and a table-top Ferris wheel with award-winning blocks of cheese -- all themed as a state fair.
These days, companies bring interactive experiences, clinically referred to as "activations," to big events like SXSW in hopes of not only generating word-of-mouth chatter, but also burning positive brand feelings into your brain.
Sometimes it works. I visited the cheese barn last year after the Wisconsin Cheese Twitter account started tweeting at me with some of the most un-brie-lievable cheese puns I'd ever heard.
We've spent the past year cheesing it up on Twitter.
Also, I have a longstanding love of cheese. Muenster. Gouda. Colby. My childhood dream involved getting a block of sharp cheddar all to myself. You don't have to twist my arm. Just tell me you've got 3,000 pounds of cheese cordoned off for consumption, and I'm there.
After days of little sleep, running fromto and to , sometimes you just want to stand in a mellowly lit room with a pack of strangers and spend a few fleeting moments of calm whispering sweet nothings to a piece of Dunbarton Blue.
If you listen to the things people mutter as they file around the table in the center, there's a definite glee in the absurd.
"Oh God, I'm so happy."
"This is so. Much. Cheese."
Suzanne Fanning, Wisconsin Cheese's chief marketing officer, tells me Cheeselandia is a state of mind, a mystical place. The line between that and a cheese-induced coma is pretty fine, but I'm willing to walk it in the name of a spicy little number called The Rattlesnake.
So, am I saying Wisconsin Cheese is an oasis in the middle of the let's-throw-everything-at-the-wall madness of SXSW?
You cheddar believe it.