CHEESE CURDS Wisconsin native Mike Whiteside has given away 2 million free cheese curd samples since first parking his trailer at a county fair 13 years ago. "I'm pretty sure I was the first guy to try cheese curds in Ohio," he says. At the Lorain County Fair, a $7 basket of half yellow cheddar and half pepper jack curds from Mike's Cheese Shack comes with cups of ranch dressing and pizza sauce riding shotgun.
FRIED SMELTS Dante Chiovitti has eaten fried smelts (bites of small fish) since he was a kid, so he added them to his Molisani Concessions' menu. "Smelts are good," he says. "It's just people don't know about them." Chiovitti will have thousands of the fish shipped from Michigan, so Cuyahoga County Fair attendees can enjoy 16 to 20 of the deep-fried catch for $8 an order.
LOADED PORKTATO Kevin and Vicki Hatch have been selling pulled pork sandwiches for five years. During a slow day two years ago, Vicki loaded a baked potato with butter, sour cream, cheese and bacon, then topped it with pork. The loaded porktato was born. You'll find the couple's Bam Bam's Backyard Barbeque & Mobile Catering at the Portage County Randolph Fair, where the approximately 4-pound meal costs a mere $7. The question Kevin is most frequently asked: "Can we get a second fork?"
MILKSHAKE Medina County 4-H'ers have sold made-from-scratch milkshakes at the Medina County Fair since 1966. "[People say,] 'Oh we came to the fair just for these milkshakes,' " says Susan Wright, a 4-H Club adviser for 38 years. Wright's favorite is chocolate, but the booth serves more than 10 flavors for $3 each.
DEEP-FRIED CANDY BARS Leeanne Bush has deep-fried everything from a stick of butter to Coca-Cola syrup at her Bush Concessions stand. She and her husband scour the Texas State Fair for ideas prior to the Great Geauga County Fair. Bush says deep-fried candy bars such as Snickers and Milky Way are perennial favorites. She prepares the $3 treat by freezing the candy, covering it in funnel-cake batter, frying it and then adding powdered sugar. "If you bring it to us, we'll deep-fry it," Bush says.
3 to See
Country music acts and county fairs ar a natural fit, and veteran Ohio hypnotist Mike Bishop has a show you won't soon forget.
Medina County Fair | Aug. 1, 8 p.m.
This rising country star brings a mix of modern country and southern rock with his rural party anthem "Kick it in the Sticks," and the romantic tune "You Don't Know Her Like I Do." "We're trying to attract young adults to our community, rather than have them go to Blossom [Music Center] or something similar," says Medina County Fair president Conrad Haneberg.
| Mike Bishop's Wild Mind Comedy Hypnosis Show
Cuyahoga County Fair | Various times
Be prepared to get very, very sleepy at Mike Bishop's annual comedy show. The Ohio hypnotist convinces volunteers they have 11 fingers, a shoe is a phone and more. "You're looking at imagination running wild," Bishop says. "You'll realize the mind has more dimension and power than you thought it did."
| Montgomery Gentry
Lorain County Fair | Aug. 19, 7:30 p.m.
Montgomery Gentry, a Grand Ole Opry-inducted duo, brings old and new hits to this fair with tracks such as "Hillbilly Shoes" and "Where I Come From." "County fairs and country music go hand in hand," says Tim Buchs, director of entertainment. "Montgomery Gentry has a history in the business. ... We're hoping to appeal to several different age groups."
Fairs are best enjoyed with the whole clan, so check out these attractions with cross-generational appeal.
| Ben Risney Chainsaw Sculptures
Portage County Randolph Fair Aug. 20-25
Balloon artists have nothing on Ben Risney, who uses a high-powered chainsaw to carve detailed sculptures of wild animals during his speed-art demonstrations. "After 20 years, you start to figure things out," he says. "You can really dive into it and go as quick as you can."
| Diaper Dash
Great Geauga County Fair Sept. 1
It may not have the adrenaline rush of other races, but the Great Geauga County Fair's Diaper Dash will have no shortage of cuteness as infants 8 to 13 months crawl their way toward the finish line. "I just love watching the parents react — and the babies," says event director Natalie Loze. "Some will go halfway and then just stop and sit down."
| Hay Bale Contest
Lorain County Fair Judging on Aug. 16
With more imaginative entries each year, including a castle complete with a fire-breathing dragon, it's no wonder the Hay Bale Contest is getting competitive for the staff of Erin Astley and Gene Henderson's Elyria-based dental practice, two-time contest winners. "Last year they were already thinking about what they were going to do this year," says fair office manager Charisse Nikel.
Livestock barns aren't the only places creatures are featured.
| Dockdogs Competition
Medina County Fair July 29-Aug. 4
| Chicken Flying Contest
Great Geauga County Fair Aug. 29
More than 40 birds will compete, but only one hen and one rooster will go head-to-head for the win. Each contestant places a chicken in a mailbox 8 feet off the ground. The bird is then nudged with a plunger to see which one flies the farthest. "We've been doing it for a long time," says fair board president Bob Rogish. "It's nice seeing the kids having a good time."
| Frog-Jumping Contest
Lake County Fair | Aug. 18