Christchurch Cheese & Chilli Festival is a two day event that brings together foodies, chefs, and artisans from across the south west. It takes place annually (unless there’s a pandemic or something equally disastrous) in Hurn, in a field next to Bournemouth Airport. There are a variety of attractions; mainly cheese and chilli themed (obviously) but also other food and drink stalls, catering, cooking demonstrations, chilli eating competitions, music and plenty of other entertainment for both adults and children.
The venue is around 5 miles north of central Bournemouth, just off the A338. It is easily accessible by car, although its popularity can lead to congestion. By bus, the 737 airport bus stops at (not surprisingly) the airport, which is next door.
There is ample car parking in a field adjoining the festival. Parking is free, although car park marshals are provided by a charity (in 2023 it was The Listening Ear), so a donation is welcome.
The event takes place in May (in 2023, it was the 20th-21st May) from 10 am until 6 pm on Saturday and 5 pm on Sunday.
Tickets cost £8 in advance or £10 on the door. If you really want to be close to the action, you can camp at the venue for £20 a night.
Stalls & Traders
Cheese lovers will be in their element, as the festival showcases an impressive array of local cheeses. From tangy cheddars to creamy blues (with all manner of added ingredients) there’s a cheese for every palate. Cheese makers proudly display their offerings, allowing visitors to sample their wares to aid in that all important decision making process. My favourite was Drunken Monk; Cheddar with Caramelised Onion and Red Wine.
Chilli enthusiasts are in for a treat as well. The festival embraces the heat and intensity of chili peppers in all their forms. From mild jalapenos to scorching habaneros, there’s a huge range of chilli sauces, jams, dips, pickles, rubs, oils, plants etc. on offer.
We tackled the arena methodically, walking the length of the site along the right hand site, stopping for lunch and to watch some of the musical entertainment. Then back to the exit along the other side, which was also the right hand site, as we were facing the other direction.
Pretty much all of them give you the opportunity to try samples before you make a purchase. We ate a lot of cheese! And came away with a lot of cheese (surprise, surprise), chutneys, a chilli plant and some amazing passion fruit curd. Engaging with the passionate individuals behind the products adds an extra layer of appreciation.. Recommendations, advice and recipes were all on offer.
With such an array of choice (Mexican, Paella, burgers, seafood, Indian…) it took us ages to make up our mind up between all the mouth watering offerings encircling us. But in the end we went for more cheese! Crispy goats cheese & chips to be precise.
All washed down nicely with a pint of Badger Beer. This year, the festival has introduced refillable cups with a choice of logos (more decisions to make).
We ate lunch sitting in front of the Music Stage. There was a full programme of live music throughout the day.
After lunch, we headed for the Cooking Theatre. Here, you can watch cooking demonstrations where renowned chefs share their expertise in creating mouth-watering dishes that incorporate chili and cheese into every bite (chilli cheeseburgers, chilli cheese fritters and chilli cocktails were on the menu). But we went to watch the Chilli Eating Competition, where brave members of the public volunteered/were coerced by friends and family to race to eat a cup of popcorn coated in a potent chilli ‘suicide sauce’, cheered on by the crowd and carefully watched over by a paramedic!
Our last stop was at the Taste Tent, where you could taste a variety of sauces (68 to be precise) and vote for your favourites. Now I love chilli, but at this point, we considered ourselves all chillied out and departed, clutching our goodies.
Christchurch Cheese & Chilli Festival for children
As an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed by day at the festival. But children are well catered for too, as dedicated areas offer entertainment and activities to keep them engaged throughout the day. All presided over by the festival’s mascot (Katie the Koala – no idea what that has to do with chillies. Or cheese.)
A small fun fair contains rides and a bouncy castle to keep kids entertained, but several of them seemed more intent on stamping on the air dancing chillies.
In the family zone are a range of activities like crazy golf and face painting as well as a full timetable of entertainment ranging from circus skills and fire eating to storytelling.
If you’re a cheese lover or a spice aficionado, the Christchurch Cheese & Chilli Festival should be at the top of your food festival bucket list. Don’t miss the chance to tantalise your taste buds and make memories that will linger (along with the taste of chilli) long after the festival ends. I will definitely be going back again next year…
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