Sport //

The running of the cheese

Bryant Apolonio is potentially too wise to play this sport

Chris Anderson, a winner of the 2012 men's race and local hero
Chris Anderson, a winner of the 2012 men’s race and local hero

Unpasteurised Gloucester cheese is famous for three reasons. The first is the strength of its flavour when aged. The second is its hard yet crumbly texture, again dependent on the length of aging. The third is its capacity to be rolled down hills at 112 km/hr while hordes of men and women stumble after it. The Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake is where one can see precisely this in action. Every year in Gloucester, England, ambitious drunks hurtle themselves down almost-vertical muddy slopes chasing a wheel of milk fat.

A strange way to pass time? Absolutely. The author of this article weirdly associates the competition with the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, except less people are gored to death and cheese is not sentient. Yet, like the Running it (1) demands a great deal of agility, which is (2) rewarded by a lot of physical pain, and (3) the whole thing is ultimately senseless. In 1993, 15 people were hurt, and 4 of them were hurt very badly. Like, spinally. Participation means an inevitable trip to the hospital—ambulances queue up at the bottom like taxis. No one is sure exactly why the competition is called a ‘wake’ but you could take a wild guess. At least we had fun.

This is why Cheese-Rolling was banned in 2009. Its organisers ignored death threats and simply called it all off. Which, the more I think about it, is a shame. Cheese has been rolled on Cooper’s Hill been since the 15th century (apparently derived from some pagan fertility ritual). People from all over the world come over and watch the cheese chase. Upwards of 500 every year. My high-school Geography teacher never stopped talking about doing it because he was so eerily proud of his achievement. Poor man.

But are laws a thing that have ever stopped people doing what they really, really want to do? An unofficial version of the event started up in 2010 which is literally no different from the original. The cheese rolls on (sorry) because people love the game they play. For the last two years its been held in a way that can only be described as ‘illegal.’ Same time, same place. Authorities more or less turn a blind eye, in return, presumably, for some under-the-table cheddar. In future times we’ll look back on the prohibition and lament our choices. Because where there’s a demand there’s always a supply. Black market cheese rolling cannot be stopped, not now, never.