Testicle Festival: At least it's done for charity
WOODRUFF - "Welcome to the Black Gold Cattle Company's eighth annual Testicle Festival," says the rodeo announcer over the loud speaker.
"Come and have a ball."
The pun, of course, is intended.
No need to blush or shake a conservative head. The two-day event which ended Saturday pays tribute to cowboy traditions and raises almost $30,000 for charity, said organizer Kalon Downing.
Once just a small community gathering, the festival attracts hundreds of people to this Utah ranching community, about 30 miles north of Evanston, Wyo.
Cowboys come to compete for prizes in old-time rodeo events such as range bull riding and team branding, which are no longer part of modern day competitions, said Downing.
But plenty of curiosity seekers come to try the deep-fried Rocky Mountain Oysters - or, to be anatomically correct, bull testicles. The cowboy caviar is part of the "Sack Lunch Special" that includes a cheeseburger and a drink for $5.
"Some people have trouble with them," says Lori Cornia, a festival volunteer, adding that it is no different than eating other beef parts such as the tongue, heart or liver.
"Just think of it as veal," she said.
Cornia said during branding time, it is customary to neuter the young bulls. In years past, rather than throwing out the "swinging beef" the delicacy was enjoyed by family and friends.
"It was considered a treat, since they only got it once a year," said Cornia. "Of course, you probably wouldn't want to eat it more than that."
For this year's festival, 250 pounds of Rocky Mountain Oysters were purchased from a Salt Lake City packing plant. The meat is prepared and cooked by the official "Nut Specialist," which include Downing's father, Hardy, as well as long-time Woodruff residents Ors Cornia and Pete Mower.
The men, working in a covered tent, dip the meat in a beer batter before throwing it into hot lard.
It takes about five minutes for the oysters to turn golden brown and be ready for serving.
Kalon Downing, owner of the Black Gold Cattle Co., first thought up the idea for a Testicle Festival while serving a Mormon mission in Arizona. When he told family and friends his idea, they thought he was, well, nuts.
But now, they say, the event - the only one of its kind in Utah - has united the community. Over the years, the money raised has helped premature babies, those with cancer, and a liver transplant patient. All the recipients have survived, says Hardy Downing.
"As ranchers, we don't always get time to talk and associate with one another," he said. "The festival brings everyone together."
Jim Nelson, a lifelong rancher, drove from his home in Pinedale, Wyo., with his two teenage sons for the festival to remember his childhood.
"I grew up having oyster fries," he said. "Everyone would get together and have a rodeo and visit. It's a very social thing."
Summer interns working for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resource in Northeastern Utah attended the festival and were pleasantly surprised at the taste of the tender, albeit, slightly chewy meat.
"It reminds me of turkey gizzards," said Lizz Mulligan, of New York City.
"They're more juicy than I thought."
Added Joe Welch from Superior, Wis. "It's good. It tastes like chicken."
But not everyone was so enamored.
"I had them once," said Jen Bucher, a volunteer in the snack shack. "That's enough."