Susan Hatton discovered Saturday that her love of macaroni and cheese puts her in good company. Maybe too good.
So many people attended the Macaroni & Cheese Festival at Cal State Bakersfield -- more than 1,000, in fact -- that Hatton and her friends had to come up with a strategy for dealing with the long lines.
In order to try as many variations of the dish as possible, they decided that instead of sitting down to eat, it made more sense to pick up a plate at one vendor then immediately get in line for a different one.
Their gambit paid off. The 35-year-old Bakersfield resident had a single word for the many "decadent" flavors and textures she experienced Saturday: "Awesomeness."
Fellow comfort food connoisseur Renee LaRue had a similar take on the day's offerings. Nibbling on a bacon-speckled mac and cheese and sipping a rum and pineapple drink under clear skies, LaRue began to think how she might dabble with an American tradition that until Saturday had been little more to her than a side dish.
"You can make it so many different ways, add different ingredients to it," she said.
Her friend and fellow Wasco resident Maria Lopez had accompanied LaRue less as a mac and cheese fan than as a culinary adventurer. To her, it was all about the cheese.
"I know I'm not going to be disappointed at all," she said with a laugh.
More than a tasting event, Saturday's event was a true festival, complete with live music, plentiful beer and a happy crowd.
Keith Robertson found himself taking a break with friends after trying several "exceptionally good" versions of the dish.
Cooling his feet in a pool beside the university's amphitheater, the Bakersfield resident recounted some of his new favorites: mac and cheese with lobster, four-cheese mac and cheese, and deep-fried mac and cheese.
Others were more impressed with the sweet twists in evidence Saturday.
Bakersfield residents Lydia McClure and her friend Susan Stafford said they had never heard of chocolate mocha mac and cheese, let alone strawberry cheesecake mac and cheese. But they enjoyed them just the same.
"It was almost like ice cream," McClure said of the cheesecake version. She added that she plans to bring along her husband if the event returns next year.
Stafford was having trouble deciding which offering was her favorite. The mac and cheese with meaty chili and Fritos was hard to beat, she said, but the chili verde mac and cheese was good, too.
The pair agreed that there was plenty of beer but not enough wine. But their comments came off as less than critical amid the fun atmosphere.
"It's really nice," Stafford said of the event.