Bera Dunau Staff Writer
---- — Otesgo 2000 will be holding its third annual Grilled Cheese for a Good Cause fundraiser this Sunday at Brewery Ommegang. The event raises money to help New York towns defend their right to home rule, and to determine their own zoning regulations on the environment and natural gas drilling.
Otsego 2000 Executive Director Ellen Pope said that the idea to put on the fundraiser came about in late 2011, when Middlefield’s ban on heavy industry, including hydraulic fracturing, was first being challenged in court.
“It was actually proposed by a local cheese maker,” said Pope, crediting Renate Nollen of Dutch Girl Cheese in Leonardsville.
The next Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, the first Grilled Cheese for a Good Cause fundraiser was held at Brewery Ommegang, followed by a second fundraiser on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend a year later.
Nollen said that she’d done a grilled cheese event for Otsego 2000 before, as part of their cheese makers tour, and had put on grilled cheese fundraisers for The Wandering Fork, an initiative of Mohawk Valley Slow Food that provides nutritious, local food for needy families.
“Everybody likes grilled cheese,” said Nollen, when asked about the concept of a grilled cheese fundraiser.
Pope says that the first Grilled Cheese for a Good Cause fundraiser raised a couple thousand dollars and that the second raised approximately $3,000. The majority of these funds were donated to the town of Middlefield, to help pay its legal expenses in defending their zoning law. The rest of the money was set aside to provide money for legal expenses for activist groups and towns looking to explore or implement zoning laws similar to Middlefield’s.
Pope says that the goal for this year’s Grilled Cheese for a Good Cause fundraiser is to raise $4,000, and that the funds raised will be distributed in a similar manner.
While Middlefield has been successful in defending its zoning bylaw, the lawsuit against it is now in front of the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court. Pope says that oral arguments are expected to be held in the case this spring, which was consolidated with a lawsuit against a similar zoning bylaw in Dryden on appeal.
The fundraiser brings together local chefs and local cheese makers to create grilled cheese sandwiches with cheeses from the area.
“We have some excellent home grown talent here and we want to showcase it,” said Pope.
This year’s chefs and their sandwiches are Alex Webster, from Alex and Ika in Cooperstown, who is making a grilled cheese with Spurbeck’s Grocery’s Aged Palatine Cheddar; Tim Masterjohn, of The Red Caboose Restaurant & Bar in Oneonta, making a grilled cheese with Harpersfield Farmstead’s Ommegang Abbey Ale washed Tilsit cheese; Jim Grinchis and Norm Phenix of 204 Main Bar and Bistro in Sharon Springs making a sandwich with Beekman’s 1802 Blaak Cheese; and Chef Evan Brown of Cafe Ommegang preparing a grilled cheese with with Dutch Girl Cheese’s Mariella Cheese. Byebrook Farm’s Gouda will also be used in the meal.
The sandwiches aren’t the only thing being donated for the fundraiser. Tomato Basil Soup is being provided by Chef Michael Gregory of The Otseaga, and Chef Brown will also be providing a soup. Additionally Chef Brown, a certified cicerone, will suggest beer pairings to go along with each sandwich. Heidelberg Bread is donating the bread for all the sandwiches, while beverages and the event site are being provided by Brewery Ommegang.
“People really, really value what we have here,” said Pope, when asked about the support the event has received. “They want to make sure it’s protected.”
“We do a lot of stuff with Ellen (Pope) and we’re very happy to get behind that organization (Otsego 2000),” said Steve Hamilton, an events coordinator for Brewery Ommegang, who praised Otsego 2000 as a wonderful community based organization.
Hamilton also talked about the importance of water to Brewery Ommegang’s business, a resource they believe fracking threatens.
“One of the reasons that Brewery Ommegang is in Cooperstown is cause it has some of the most excellent water quality,” said Hamilton. “We consider groundwater such a high priority.....we just can’t take any risks.”
The event has two seatings, one at 6 and another at 7 p.m, and will be held in a heated tent on the grounds of Brewey Ommegang. Ticket holders will be given 1/4 of each sandwich, a bowl of soup , a free beverage and desert. There will also be plainer grilled cheese sandwiches on hand, that the chefs will prepare for children who don’t want extra ingredients on their sandwiches.
Entertainment at the event will be provided by the folk band Tributary.
“It provides a really nice festive atmosphere,” said Pope, of the music.
Two baskets, each containing local cheeses and Ommegang beer, will also be raffled off, with the proceeds also going to defend home rule. Pope says that an effort is also made to have the cheese makers at the event as well.
The capacity of the event is about 100 people for each seating. Pope says that the event sold out last year, and that this year’s 6 p.m. seating has already sold out as well.
“If people want to get their tickets they should get them soon,” said Pope.
Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children six to 12. Children under six are admitted free. Those wishing to make reservations can call Otsego 2000 at 547-8881.