My mother always said, “You can do anything you want to do.”

She was usually talking to my brother.

But she encouraged me, too, saying I should always have the confidence to pursue my dreams.

Frantically chasing an 8-pound wheel of cheese down a Belfast hill probably wasn’t what she had in mind.

My dreams, it seems, have gone wonderfully downhill since getting wind of the New World Cheese Rolling Championships taking place in Belfast this Saturday.

The cheddar-centric event is part of the fourth annual Maine Celtic Celebration on the Belfast waterfront all weekend.

And the logistics are simple: a 5- to 8-pound wheel of cheddar cheese, a hill and some old-fashioned gravity. The cheese is rolled from the hilltop, bouncing its way down like a giant runaway aspirin. And the cheese-loving contenders come tumbling after, because “anything that rolls down a hill is good to chase,” according to Ron Braybrook, one of the Maine Celtic Celebration’s volunteer organizers.

The first to tackle the disc of dairy at the bottom of the hill is deemed the winner. As if the title of “Cheese Rolling Champion” wasn’t enough, the winner gets to keep the cheese, too. Thanks to the rind, it’s even edible.

“There’s nothing serious about it,” said Braybrook. “It’s all in fun. The prize is a wheel of cheese!”

Still, the determined cheddar-chasers have been known to take the event rather seriously, even wrestling over the wheel in years past.

“Sometimes it’s quite a tussle, people fighting over it at the bottom of the hill,” said Braybrook. Organizers have even added a referee this year, just to keep the downhill race on the up and up.

Of course, the ref is just a proactive measure in case there’s a question over a winner. The family-friendly event isn’t likely to get out of hand.

The Belfast championships are divided into three heats: women, men and children. Last year, the men were required to run up the hill first in an effort to thin out the competition. “We don’t want to have more than eight or 10 in a heat,” said Braybrook. A bigger lineup could lead to injury.

While only four years old in Belfast, the tradition of cheese rolling is well-aged in the U.K. Competitors have chased cheese wheels down Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester for more than 200 years.

And by “chased,” I mean “rolled,” “fell” and “tumbled.” Cooper’s Hill is no gentle decline. The rolling cheese alone could reach speeds of 70 miles per hour, gathering enough gusto to level an unfortunate bystander.

Such a steep gradient meant competitors who remained upright through the race weren’t really trying. Sure, they walked away without bruises, bent limbs or head injuries. But their tough-guy pals probably mocked them into seclusion.

The Cooper’s Hill event grew so popular it attracted 15,000 spectators in 2009 — enough to crumple the insurance policy. The 2010 event was officially canceled on account of all the onlookers, although an “unofficial” competition was still held.

This year’s cancellation means the World Cheese Rolling Championships might have jumped the pond and rolled to a contented stop at the bottom of a Belfast hill.

While Maine Celtic Celebration organizers did get the cheese rolling idea from our friends in the Old Country, the Maine version is slightly different. For one, the hill in Belfast isn’t nearly as deadly. And a battalion of emergency vehicles won’t need to haul two dozen fallen cheese-goers off to the hospital.

Thus, Maine competitors should feel free to tackle the cheese.

So go ahead, chase your cheddar dream. Run after the rolling rind.

Your mom — the lady who’s backed your dreams no matter how far-fetched or milk-based — will be proud. Who knows, she might even sign up for the women’s heat and take the cheese herself.


Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at: [email protected]