Food contests remain ever popular at the Merced County Spring Fair, as people served up their best recipes for judging in categories for meats, salsas, nuts, desserts and more.
The Home Brew Contest made its debut with 10 entries and professional judges affiliated with Dust Bowl Brewing Co. in Turlock.
“You guys are making great beers,” said Steven Verscheldon, one of four judges. “On the way down here, we were saying, ‘Fair beers? Maybe we should have brought beer,’ but you guys presented us with really good beer. We would have hung out and drank all those beers. We drink those beers all night long.”
The competition included four categories - ale, light, pale or blonde; ale dark; seasonal fruit; any other - and a best of show.
The judges provided feedback, including on the beers’ nose, fermentation and filtering process, after ranking the beers.
Gregory Rozema, who took second place in the ale, light, pale or blonde category, produces a batch of homemade beer about every six weeks.
“I’ve always been really into beer and one day a friend and I decided on a whim we’d start making beer,” Rozema said. “I’ve never entered any home brew competition before and saw it was locally in the area and decided to give it a shot.”
Eileen Vaughn, contest coordinator, said she’s hoping for more entries next year.
Winners included: ale, light, pale or blonde category - Tag Soares took first place, Greggory Rozema, second place, and Darrell DiGiovanni, third place; ale dark category - Jeremy Robinson took first place and Christopher Benard second place; seasonal Fruit - Jesse De La Paz took first place; any other - Jesse De La Paz; best of show - Gregory Rozema.
The Special Salsa Contest has a long history at the Merced County Spring Fair.
This year’s edition featured 22 salsas in the fresh tomatoes and fruit categories.
Michael Amabile, who sponsors the competition through his restaurant España’s Southwest Bar and Grill, commented on the consistency in heat as he was judging each entry. He does not like his salsa too hot.
Amabile also dispensed cooking tips, including using sea salt so food does not become too salty as it is consumed as leftovers.
Winners included: fresh tomato category - Kayla Valdez took first place and Brittany McClary, second place; fruit category - Areceli Valdez took first place and Rosemary Oliveira, second place; best of show - Terri Chagnon.
The sausage contest featured the traditional Italian, Portuguese and “any other” categories.
Judge Randy Miles said despite the sausages including many of the same characteristics, he could taste the subtle differences.
Michael Boffa and Paul Enos, who finished first and second in the Italian sausage category both said they were inspired to make sausage by family members.
“Families get together now,” Enos said. “Starting from December through February, families come together and everybody makes sausage. It’s kind of a neat tradition.”
Sydney Gerstenberg, 17, placed third in the any other category, but she said it was her first and last time entering the competition. Sydney, whose father taught her to make the award-winning links, said the hours it took to prepare the meat was just too long.
The Merced County Spring Fair also included a cheesecake contest, the Best Ever Cookie Contest, Kids Best Ever Baking Contest, Nuts About Almonds and a Pasta Sauce Contest.