Minnesota State Fair, take two

Last fall, as a new arrival in the great state of Minnesota, I found myself too bewildered by Midwestern state-fairdom to enjoy it properly.

Hundred-pound blocks of butter, carved in the likeness of the fair’s “dairy Queens’?

All-you-can-drink milk for a dollar?

Cheese, deep-fried butter, slab-o-bacon, fry-pie, smores, Scotch-eggs, pork chops, fish, gator, pig and pretty much everything else…on a STICK?

At the time, this was enough to make one ex-urbanite a little skittish. But no more! This year, my colleague Andrea (also a Minnesota Yearling) and my out-of-town spouse Mark joined me for the festivities. Well-caffeinated and wearing comfortable shoes, we drove the two hours to Minneapolis and hopped a park-and-ride bus to the fairgrounds (which are, oddly enough, right downtown). After a brief but necessary stop… the result of being well-caffeinated for a two-hour car ride…we queued up for the deep fried gastric assault that is the hallmark of the event.

Perhaps there is an organic west-coast fair somewhere serving green-leafy veg and hummus. We began the day, however, with deep-fried cheese curds…followed by fajitas, Italian sausage and peppers, and caramel apple. The latter two convinced me that my nose is too big for a direct hit on sticky, greasy foods. Sideways is more practical.

We then followed the gathering crowds of people (many of whom were wearing hats in the shape of large game fish or pigs’ ears) to the Dairy Barn. There are many reasons to visit the place, but the essential draw for me was to witness the expertly carved butter heads.

If you aren’t familiar, the State Fair has its own court of queens–rather like homecoming, but from the dairy aisle. Their likenesses are enshrined in blocks of butter for posterity (or until the hot-rolls come out). If that seems extraordinary, let me also say that the process requires an enormous refrigerated room, where the queens must sit for their portraits in parkas while the artist shivers through the act of creation. The result: edible art a cardiologist can be proud of.

The other reason to visit the Dairy Barn is, of course, the dairy. Long, steel pipes carry that magical goodness from vats to your cone or cup–complete will all natural toppings. So good we ended up their twice (for Andrea and Mark; I looked on forlornly…I’m lactose intolerant, and ice-cream is frankly asking for trouble).

Not to worry, however. I did not suffer from hunger and want. Istill ate the flowing onion, with its many dipping sauces…and the bucket-o-cookies, hot from the oven. I might have done more, but I am still new to Minnesota. One must take this slow; after all, my internal systems aren’t quite prepared for the onslaught of stick-pierced goodies and deep-fried dessert (from apple-pie to cheesecake and twinkies and candy-bars). Next year, I am bringing a cast-iron stomach and, perhaps, a wheel-barrow in which to cart myself back to the car.

I did, however, visit the all-you-can-drink milk barn. I had to. I needed something to wash down two-dozen cookies.

Eat proud, Minnesota!

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