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Good eats —

By Staff | Aug 27, 2010

Chuck Johnson, who raises sheep near Winterset, cooked legs of lamb for the Iowa Sheep industry Association.

DES MOINES – Forget food on a stick. Some of the Iowa State Fair’s most popular meals come in the form of pork chop dinners, hot beef sundaes, leg-of-lamb sandwiches and other stick-to-your-rib entrees served up by Iowa’s commodity groups, who take advantage of this opportunity to strengthen the farm-to-fork connection with consumers.

“The Pork Tent allows the Iowa Pork Producers Association to showcase various pork products and introduce chops and loin products to people who may not be big consumers of pork,” said Ron Birkenholz, communications director for the IPPA. “It also allows us to put a face on the industry by having producers on hand to visit with consumers. It’s a win-win situation that’s a great promotion and public relations opportunity.”

For the first time since 1999, IPPA introduced a new menu item at this year’s Iowa State Fair. Ground pork sliders were offered as a sandwich or as part of a traditional Iowa Pork Tent dinner.

This year marked the 30th anniversary of the IPPA’s Pork Tent, which served 33,846 meals that first year, and has tripled since then.

While 800 volunteers are ready to serve up pork during the state fair run, sales still depend on the weather. “When the weather is hot, people aren’t as hungry, and sales decline,” Birkenholz said. “When the weather is cooler during the state fair, the Pork Tent thrives!”

Hamburgers and hot beef sundaes are some of the most popular items sold at the Iowa Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters.

Beef Quarters

Fairgoers with a craving for beef can satisfy their appetite at the Cattlemen’s Beef Quarters, which celebrated its 25th anniversary at the Iowa State Fair in 2009.

“That was a big year for us,” said Joe Kuhns, who serves on the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association’s board of directors and also plays a major role with the Beef Quarters, which is staffed by volunteers from county beef organizations. “We had more than 70,000 purchases in 2009. Also, during the 25 years of operation, the counties that own stock have received $448,465 from Beef Quarters sales.”

Hamburgers remain the top-selling item, with more than 16,000 sold each year. The hot beef sundae, which was introduced at the 2007 Iowa State Fair, is a close second, said Kuhns, who noted that the number-three favorite is the rib eye steak sandwich, whose sales have jumped 14 percent since 2007.

The sheer volume of food that the Beef Quarters handles during the fair is staggering, added Kuhns, who shared this data from the close of its 15th year:

  • 50,881 customer purchases.
  • 20,200 pounds of high-quality bee.f
  • 5,800 pounds of French fries.
  • 9,800 baked potatoes.
  • 2,500 pounds of tomatoes.
  • More than 3,000 gallons of soda.

Lamb kabobs

The state fair also offers a smorgasbord for lamb lovers. Each day of the fair, volunteers with the Iowa Sheep Industry Association serve up lamb kabobs, leg-of-lamb sandwiches, lamb burgers, lamb jerky, lamb sausages, lamb brats, and biscuits and gravy with lamb meat in the gravy.

“We sell approximately 3,000 pounds of lamb during the fair, and it takes about 150 people to prepare and serve this food,” said Amanda Luitjens, ISIA’s executive director, who noted that ISIA has operated a food stand at the fair for more than 20 years.

The stand offers sheep producers a great way to connect with consumers, Luitjens added. “While there are approximately 200,000 sheep in Iowa, which ranks ninth in the nation for sheep production, a lot of people don’t have the chance to eat lamb. Having our stand at the state fair gives people the opportunity to try the lean, wholesome red meat that’s produced here in Iowa.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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