4-H Fair Tastes: Just how do those new treats come to Food Row?

By Bill Beck, Special to the 4-H Fair

Fair-goers experience it every summer.

A fun question has bounced around either openly among friends or subtlety in our minds.

It happens each July at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds.

It’s unavoidable. It’s intriguing.

“Where do these food vendors come up with some of these new ideas?”

There’s a story behind every new Food Row delicacy and I found a funny one for 2017. Let’s label the tale, “What Carnies Do with Time on their Hands.”

While wandering through the “Taste of the Fair” event on Thursday, July 20, one night prior to the Fair’s debut, I got the chance to stroll through the dozen or so vendors who served up sample-size portions of their tasty products. It was a delightful perk of working with 4-H folks this week.

The tacos at Javi’s Mexican food truck, parked near the Commercial Exhibit buildings, were spot on. Chicken and pork are the options.

A strawberry margarita smoothie went down well as did the Deep-Fried Circus Peanuts. The circus peanut was intriguing because I hadn’t tasted a regular circus peanut in decades.

On the first bite, I was curious and the flavor escaped me, but 3-4 seconds into the sample, that circus peanut flavor smacked my taste buds right in the mouth. A great trip down memory lane.

Really good stuff.

Pork sandwich and philly cheese steak, each staples of Food Row, hit the mark, as always. A no-brainer.

The Enchilada Funnel Cake, one of the featured new items on the 4-H menu, was a plate-sized treat. Chorizo covered in queso over a plain cake was an interesting combination.

But the combo taste of the night was the “Elephant Cheese Toes” and “Elephant Cheese Trunks.” The “toes” were golf ball-sized chunks of deep-fried cheddar cheese coated with the elephant ear cinnamon and sugar. The samples were single bites, but they’re sold this week 4-to-a-stick.

“Trunks” — a wedge of cheddar on a stick and deep-fried, came with a cup of raspberry dipping sauce.

A collaboration Lucy Withers, who runs the “Elephant Ears” concession near the Fair’s main entrance, and Harley and Rhiannon Steiner of “Hot Wisconsin Cheese,” the latest creations were forged less than two weeks.

The the two vendor trailers park next to each other.

“We were in Fort Wayne, it was rainy and a slow day,” said Lucy, who broached the idea of coming up with something new to kill down time. “We just figured, ‘Why not?”

So the experimentation between food preparers began. After a brief trial-and-error period, the two vendors came up with “Cheese Toes” and “Cheese Trunks.”

Have to admit … the raspberry dipping sauce caught me off guard at first, but the blend of the melted cheese and raspberry goes very well. And about anything that has the Elephant Ear coating on it is grand.

Sometimes when one is bored, terrific ideas emerge.

Enjoy the tastes.

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