It was a mac and cheese filled night on Thursday at the Hilton DoubleTree in Downtown Binghamton. The Mac & Cheese Fest, a yearly event that fundraises for the Binghamton Philharmonic Orchestra, saw a tremendous turnout of over 1,000 guests for its ninth year.

For two hours, attendees were able to get their cheese on by sampling mac and cheeses from a variety of locations local to the Greater Binghamton area. Twenty-four restaurants attended this year’s festival, and each brought something unique to the table. Patrons were able to sample each dish in taste-test sized cups, and come back for seconds — or even thirds — of their favorites.

Traditional mac and cheese was not the only star of Thursday’s show. 205 Dry’s BBQ mac and cheese combined the sweet BBQ sauce with just the right amount of salty pork. The new Downtown by Chef Jay Pisculli brought cheese-stuffed gnocchi mac with roasted garlic cream and fried mortadella and basil. McCoy’s Chophouse brought a unique Greek take on mac with chef Josh Crane’s Greek Chicken Mac and Cheese.

The mac that really stole the show this year was Kampai Japanese Steakhouse’s Spicy Miso Ramen Mac & Cheese, featuring asiago, sharp cheddar and muenster, topped with spicy miso beef and garnished with a potato onion crunch and scallions. By audience choice, it took home the titles of Best of the Fest and Most Original for their second year in a row, and for their fourth year taking home a win overall. Just like Kampai, Park Diner also won Best Classic for their second year in a row.

Michael Matsushima, 37, co-owner of Kampai Japanese Steakhouse, wrote in an email about the secret to the restaurant’s success at the festival.

“We try to do spinoffs on traditional Japanese dishes,” Matsushima wrote. “We are fortunate to have some very talented chefs that are able to marry traditional Japanese flavors with the very non-traditional macaroni and cheese.”

Audience choices weren’t the only awards handed out on Thursday, though. This year, the festival welcomed panel of judges including Emily Jablon, a mosaic artist known best for her appearances on Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef, Daniel Hege, the Music Director for the Binghamton Philharmonic, Bill Snyder, WSKG’s Classical Music Director, several local news media personalities and Binghamton University’s own Brooke Smith, president of the Cheese Club and a senior majoring in biology as their panel of judges. The judges chose between the 24 participants for the judge’s choice award, which they presented to R&B Soul Food, and New to the Fest, which was presented to McCoy’s Chophouse for their second year in the festival.

Smith wrote in an email about her experience judging with the rest of the panel.

“It was easy to identify some clear shared favorites, however, narrowing down just one winner was a bit difficult,” Smith wrote. “Different judges have different things that we prefer in our mac and cheese, but I think we were all pleased with our choice, and the winners are very deserving of their titles.”

There were plenty of honorable mentions from attendees, as well. John Schreckendgust, 40, of Nichols, had his stand out mac and cheese by the end of the night.

“I really enjoyed The [FatCowboys BBQ’s] mac,” Schreckendgust wrote in an email. “Not only did they have a buffalo chicken mac, but a pulled BBQ beef mac. [I enjoyed it] enough [that] I went back for thirds, and they [had run] out by then.”

Mac and cheese might have been the star of the show, but it wasn’t the only feature. Festival attendees had a variety of baskets to choose from for the basket raffle, including baskets from the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Little Venice, Tom’s Gift Shop and the Binghamton Hilton DoubleTree itself. Between the raffle, drinks, music and so much mac, there was something for everyone this year at the festival.

It’s safe to say that with such a large turnout and so much cheese in one place, there was nothing “cheddar” to do on Thursday night than the Mac & Cheese Fest. It’s a “gouda” thing that the festival is annual, so be sure to check in next year so you don’t miss the 10th anniversary and all of the cheesy goodness.