We entered Watonga around 10 a.m. on a Friday morning. It was a strange time to stage the 42nd Annual Cheese Festival, but, in Oklahoma, anything goes at these small-town celebrations, including a startling array of miniature horses that were out and about, just begging for a wannabe horse whisperer like me to befriend and, ultimately, love.
As we parked the car on the edge of the festival, past the Extreme Survivor inflatable bounce, standing in the morning shade of their trailer was about five or six of the specially-bred horses; were we supposed to be messing with these unguarded behooved treasures? Probably not, but after ten minutes of hanging with these little guys, the town of Watonga had already won me over.
As we walked down the center of Watonga, it was as desolate as I had expected, with a few ice cream stands selling their goods on the rather chilly day. From the looks of the place, it sadly seemed like the only dairy at the long-running cheese festival was this handful of dessert offerings. But, according to the permanent marker signage on the various storefront windows, inside a local church there were supposed to be various cheese tastings going on all day.
While my pal Jodie was a bit apprehensive about entering a church—living in Oklahoma will do that to you—we followed the signs and found a large recreational room absolutely filled with cheese samples. Featuring the best cubes that the Watonga Cheese Factory—no longer located in Watonga, by the way—has to offer, we sampled Cheddar, Longhorn, Onion, Habanero and so on, all beautifully delicious examples of dairy-drenched ingenuity.
What truly intrigued me though were the many curds that were for sale; I have never tasted the pale devils before, but the coagulated milk chunks are supposedly a divine treat, some claiming them to be better than the actual cheese. With a questionable side-eye, I purchased a bag of Watonga Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese curds ($7.00), which, cracking open the bag while sitting on a few hay-bales, were arguably even better than the stellar cheese samples; I was sold on curds.
And while the nearby showroom of the church, featuring local honey and homemade soaps, was relatively innocuous, one still expected Jesus Christ himself to show up and whip the right-wing obsessives behind the Donald Trump merchandise booth in this house of God, a large kiosk with plenty of 45-era swag that will look classy at any anti-impeachment protests that are surely coming up, praise be.
Towards the end of the festival’s path through town, it became heavy with different food trucks—the McGill’s Chuck Wagon and their Cowboy Corndog was tough to pass by, but we did—and, for those that enjoy alcoholic beverages with their cheese, a large Oklahoma wine stockade with even more free spirit samples that, had it not been ten in the morning, I probably would have taken a fermented swig of one or two.
On the way back to the car, past the possibly Christian dispensary and the Gay Pride bubble machine, the demonic bleating of a horned goat called us over to the small petting zoo, sponsored by the Future Farmers of America. For only a dollar, we got to see a llama spit on a woman, glare at turkeys that are fed up with it all, and say hello to yet another miniature horse, one that hungrily tried to eat Jodie’s cell phone.
“I love you,” I whispered in the little horse’s ear as he then tried to bite my deserving face.