The 158th Wisconsin State Fair just came to a close, yet I’m still suffering from a food hangover.
Promising over 50 different foods on a stick, the Wisconsin State Fair, for many, means one thing: food. It’s one of the major reasons why folks attend the Fair. It's part of the experience. After all, it’s food you don't eat any other time because if you did, you’d probably keel over.
The tradition of gorging on junk food at the Fair is something that never really appealed to me. But, this year while making my annual trip with Justin, I decided to go all out. We ditch our diets and relished a deep-fried food feast that left us literally stuffed for days.
Upon entering through the main gates late in the afternoon, the blend of grilled and fried food smells – oh, the wonderful smells – permeated my nostrils and swirled in my lungs, making my stomach flip in excitement. It was time to see what all of the non-calorie counters were flocking to the Fair for.
Justin and I got to taste an assortment of Fair favorites, but when you're from Wisconsin, you've got to start things off right – with a frosty brew. We ordered up two Milwaukee Ale House Louie’s Demise and made our rounds, perusing the many food options while doing a little people watching and peeking in at some of the animals inside the various Ag pavilions. But, like I said, the smells are wonderful – I’m talkin’ food here, folks. Please. – so you get pretty hungry walking around.
Once our first beer was gone, our bellies were ready to tackle the rest of the Fair.
The food at the Fair is supposed to put you in touch with the agricultural history of the state, and it helps that it often tastes good. Each year the State Fair honors our dairy industry and the best place to taste some of Wisconsin’s fine produce is inside the Wisconsin Products Pavilion. Here we found cheese curds, string cheese, grilled cheese, and other cheese-smothered foods. Yes, we tried it all. It was just too difficult to resist the deep-fried cheese curds and a grilled cheese sammy oozing with Swiss.
While our minds – and stomachs – were focused on great Wisconsin produce, the two of us ventured across the park to Herb Kohl’s Milkhouse where about 160,000 glasses brimming with milk are sold each year. For only 25 cents per 8 oz glass, milk lovers stood in line to sample a variety of unique flavors – banana, vanilla cherry and root beer – and not so unusual flavors like chocolate and strawberry. I guzzled an ice cold cup of thick and creamy root beer-flavored milk and another of banana. I’m pretty sure that just about covered my dairy intake for the next couple of days.
Although we were getting quite full, we weren’t about to call it quits.
Next, we were on a mission to find the popular chocolate-covered bacon on a stick. On the way, we stopped by the New Berlin Lions Club Roasted Corn stand where 108,012 ears of corn were sold last year, according to the Wisconsin State Fair Foundation. This is a treat I never pass up. I swear the Fair’s corn on the cob tastes better than any other, especially with a generous sprinkling of salt and a lot of butter!
Finally, we came to The Machine Shed restaurant (adjacent to the We Energies Energy Park on the southwest edge of the Fairgrounds), the only vendor offering bacon – chocolate-covered bacon on a stick. Swarms of Fair-goers filed into one of three lines and ordered up their sweet and salty snack. Based on the crowd, everyone was just as curious as we were.
Made with thick-cut bacon from Wisconsin and premium dark chocolate, this head-turner was a runaway hit, selling 7,000 slices – unexpectedly – in the first day of the Fair. Nearly 100,000 slices were sold by the end of the 10-day event. It was delicious!
Also at The Machine Shed, we ordered one of the gooey peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a stick, which tasted an awful lot like a PB&J donut. It seems like everything at the Fair just tastes better on a stick!
We took a break and stopped inside the air-conditioned Expo Center. The enormous room was packed wall to wall with stands and booths and flocks of Fair-goers. Fair-shoppers could find anything ranging from household gadgets, jewelry, crafts, knick knacks, pet supplies, books, and toys. Even here we couldn’t even get away from the food. I salivated over homemade peanut butter fudge and dill pickles the length of my hand while Justin mowed down a bratwurst, followed by a pork sandwich.
When we thought we couldn't eat another bite, we stopped at the Cream Puff Parlor where droves of people stood in line either inside or at the express window waiting for an original Wisconsin State Fair cream puff. This year, like the last few, patrons had the option of buying a six-pack to bring home in a to-go box, which can even be insulated to keep the fluffy desserts fresh while walking around the Fairgrounds. It’s no wonder how almost 400,000 of these beloved treats are sold each year.
I don’t know about you, but the hype of the cream puffs make me crave one every year, but when I get it, one, I can’t finish it; and two, I don’t like it. Keeping this in mind, I opted for a chocolate éclair that I shared with Justin. I had one big bite and couldn’t stomach the richness of the custard filling after my intake of other Fair food. Maybe next year I’ll graduate to a second bite.
The State Fair is the only time I eat this food and in this quantity, which is probably a good thing since most of the food at the State Fair can be put in the fatty, greasy, sugary foods category.
Wisconsin State Fair
640 South 84th Street
West Allis, WI
August 6-16, 2009