Testicle Festival a Real Ball
Byron, Ill., serves up fried turkey nuts by the sackful
Here is a pair of raw turkey testicles. Couldn't show just one. (Mike Suchan photo)
By: Mike Suchan, OutdoorChannel.com
BYRON, Ill. -- Andrew Zimmern, eat your testicles out.
It’s certain the host of Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” has taste-tested testes, probably from a variety of animals, but no one at the 35th Annual Turkey Testicle Festival in Byron, Ill., could remember the king of eating oddball foods at their fete.
The town about 90 miles west of Chicago is hailed as the “Gateway to the Rock River Valley,” but on the second Saturday in October it’s the gastronomic gateway to turkey rocks.
The Byron Bar Association – there’s seven pubs within a stone’s throw of downtown -- fries up 400 pounds of turkey testicles and sacks ‘em up with cold beer and music in the name of charity.
“I think it started out as a kind of joke and took off from there,” said Robin Costa, whose husband, Rosario, was at Costa’s Pizzeria and Ristorante overseeing the fry. “Who says, ‘What do you do with extra turkey balls? Let’s go have a festival!’ ”
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The name sure creates curiosity. Kinda rolls off the tongue. Ain’t alliteration awesome!
Driving along Hwy. 2 in north Illinois to visit Ralph and Vicki Cianciarulo for their Deer Camp, Wild Card couldn’t believe his eyes catching a glimpse of a sign entering Byron. The Archer’s Choice crew verified it, saying in unison, “Turkey Testicle Festival!” And a stop on the way back was warranted.
Motorcyclists were pulling up to the fest that Spanky’s bar owner Brad Cox said had some biker phobia in the early days. Now most of the bikers, longer in the tooth, are just enjoying organized fall rides, a few beers, the bands and turkey nuts.
The first fest was started on a lark in 1978 by Union Station bar owners Frank and Carol Maragi. Research shows Frank got the idea from a California fest, although current organizers surmised he got a plum deal from a turkey processor. The novelty of eating Butterball balls has spread a seed.
“I’ve had people from Sweden see the festival advertised somewhere and come down,” Costa said. “There’s people from all over the world.”
Turkey testicles are larger than those of a human, said Costa, not divulging her research. She said the festival’s longtime logo, which has a cartoon turkey protecting its nether regions, is a fowl-up – pun intended. Turkey testicles are under the left wing, she clarified.
They come packaged frozen in 50-pound boxes for about $5 a pound, she said. Shaped like kidney beans, the plum-sized plums are sliced up into bite-sized pieces, soaked in a secret marinate, breaded and fried for those who dare. There are others who really dare.
“Last year, a couple guys thought they’d be funny and take a half a one and just lump it down whole – raw,” Costa said to looks of amazement. “We were bored.”
In a first, and possibly a last, author Mike Suchan eats a turkey testicle. Yes, tastes like chicken, but hot sauce helped. (Robin Costa photo)
“Everybody comes in here and says I’ll never eat them, but after three or four beers, they’re gobbling them down,” said Karl Dahlin, working at a booth to raise awareness for motorcyclists.
“It’s amazing the amount of people who come here for the nuts,” Cox said. “We have older people who come here and say they used to eat them as kids.”
Willis Brand of Waterloo, Ill., saw the festival on the Internet and made a 300-mile drive. He graciously nutted up and testes, er, tested one for the camera. His wife, Melody, said nada to nads. “Not me.”
Not sold in pairs, the nuts come in sample cups and are included in the entrance fee. The comparison in taste is, you guessed it, like chicken.
“They taste like a soft, really tender piece of chicken,” Cox said.
Wild Card didn’t discern much flavor in the somewhat mushroom-textured testicles – mostly just breading and oil -- but hot sauce made it palatable.
Kitty Moring of 5th Alarm, a former firehouse turned into a bar, said Huntley, Ill., holds a similar fest the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but Byron’s is the original. And there’s other testicle fests around the globe, many with Rocky Mountain Oysters. The World Testicle Cooking Championship is held in Serbia each September.
“We’ve got to get Andrew here from the Travel Channel,” Moring said. “I don’t think I’ve seen him do a turkey nut show.”
One can just see Zimmern describe the flavor of Byron’s turkey testicles, popping one in his mouth and deadpanning to the camera – “somewhat nutty.” Or maybe not.
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