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Midwestern State Fairs: Tasting a Quintessential American Experience

Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa

Midwestern State Fairs: Tasting a Quintessential American Experience

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  • States:
    Ohio
    Wisconsin
    Indiana
    Iowa

Rodgers and Hammerstein, the duo who created such Broadway classics as The Sound of Music and The King and I, also wrote a musical called State Fair, celebrating Iowa’s annual gathering of farmers from across the state.

“Our state fair is a great state fair,” read the lyrics to one song. “Don’t miss it. Don’t even be late.” As the song suggests, Midwesterners love their state fairs, which typically last several weeks and are held in August or September. Farmers from across each state bring their best livestock to compete for prizes, and home cooks enter competitions for the best baked goods and canned foods. Every fair promises a midway of carnival rides and games, and the nation’s top country music stars often headline. U.S. cowboy culture is everywhere: Events include rodeos and barn dances, and locals dress the part, accessorizing with cowboy hats and boots and decorative belt buckles.

Fun at the State Fair

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As the song suggests, Midwesterners love their state fairs, which typically last several weeks and are held in August or September. Farmers from across each state bring their best livestock to compete for prizes, and home cooks enter competitions for the best baked goods and canned foods. Every fair promises a midway of carnival rides and games, and the nation’s top country music stars often headline. U.S. cowboy culture is everywhere: Events include rodeos and barn dances, and locals dress the part, accessorizing with cowboy hats and boots and decorative belt buckles.

For food-lovers, state fairs showcase the best that local farmers and vendors have to offer. At the Indiana State Fair, ranchers serve sandwiches made with steak or pulled pork, and dairy farmers operate the Dairy Bar, with a menu of ice cream, milkshakes and gooey grilled cheese sandwiches.

At the Wisconsin State Fair, the state’s dairy farmers provide the ingredients for more than 400,000 cream puffs (sweet cream nested in flaky pastry shells) and deep-fried cheese curds, which vendors sell to fairgoers. At the Ohio State Fair, food vendors such as Schmidt’s honor the region’s German heritage with sausage sandwiches, bratwurst and frankfurters topped with steamy sauerkraut.

Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

Sample some of the Midwest's favorite foods — like funnel cakes and fried cheese curds (pictured here) — at state fairs around the region.

Throughout the region, state fairs are ideal occasions for sampling indulgences including sugar-dusted funnel cakes and buttery corn on the cob. The events are also known for serving food on a stick. Corndogs — deep-fried, breaded hot dogs — are the classic example, but vendors at the Iowa State Fair offer more than 70 food-on-a-stick options.

To drink, fairgoers seek out lemon shake-ups, a blend of lemonade, sugar and ice. Many state fairs are also featuring the region’s growing number of breweries, wineries and distilleries with judged competitions and tasting events.

Sample some of the Midwest's favorite foods — like funnel cakes and fried cheese curds (pictured here) — at state fairs around the region.

Sample some of the Midwest's favorite foods — like funnel cakes and fried cheese curds (pictured here) — at state fairs around the region.
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Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

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