The California State Fair is more than just corn dogs, cotton candy and colorful lemonades. It also offers a look at what the state has to offer in terms of artisan food and beverages, giving foodies and farm-to-fork enthusiasts a place to indulge.
Fair goers can choose from more than 50 state-sourced taps at the Craft Brew Pub or enjoy free wine tastings at the Save Mart Wine Garden, which offers a variety of California wines, including award winners from the State Fair’s Commercial Wine Competition.
Each day the wine garden also showcases a winery of the day, and along with tastings people can buy a bottle or glass of wine.
Marco Houston, a Save Mart assistant general manager, said his company-sponsored wine garden offers a variety of choices, including an array of reds, whites and other varietals in between.
“We have something for everyone,” Houston said.
The Kaiser Permanente Farm, which is located on the fair grounds, offers guests an opportunity to learn about more than 70 crops grown in California, along with the ability to taste local culinary delights prepared by chefs at an outdoor kitchen grill, learn about fish farming and the California floral industry, and receive gardening tips, among many other activities.
The farm also hosts the State Fair Farmers Market where people can taste what’s currently in season at California farms, including grapes, watermelon, honey and stone fruit.
Jennifer Rousseve, Friends of the California State Fair board member, said the market is an opportunity to show people healthy food choices are available at the fair and to spread the word about the produce options available to them this time of year.
The fair’s California Building also houses an array of food-lover amenities, such as a sampling center, cooking theater, classes and educational exhibits.
The sample court has been around for about five years and is intended to showcase what California has to offer, said Michelle Johnson, culinary programs coordinator. It gives vendors a space to interact with their customers and provides an opportunity for customers to ask the vendors questions in return.
The idea is to give consumers real experience and knowledge of where their food comes from, Johnson said.
The food vendors in the sampling center rotate, showcasing a variety of California businesses that produce things like local honey, nut-based snacks or organic cheese.
“Well, (fair goers) have been lining up. They seem to have been enjoying it very much,” said Marsha Bamford of Bamford Family Farms in Oroville, which produces fresh-pressed olive oils. “I think the experience is just tremendous and it’s just plain fun.”
Bamford Farms was offering samples of its many infused olive oils, which included basil, meyer lemon, jalapeño and garlic, along with a cool treat of blood orange olive oil drizzled over ice cream.
Last year, the fair also started offering what it calls Taste of California Experience Classes, said fair spokesperson Sabrina Washington.
Classes take place Friday through Sunday during the fair’s two week-long run and offer participants an opportunity to learn about a variety of subjects related to wine, cheese, olive oil and honey.
The classes were created in response to demands from fair goers who wanted to learn about the food products being presented in the tasting center, Washington said.
“Fair goers just want to know more about where their food comes from,” Washington said, which you can’t always get in the sampling center because vendors are dealing with many people at once.
This type of food education also appeals to younger people, who have a strong interest in knowing what’s in their food, where it comes from and how it’s made, Washington said.
Classes are about 30 minutes, Washington said, adding that they are able to bring people into a controlled space with industry experts that can provide them with in-depth knowledge.
Tickets are still on sale for classes heading into the fair’s final weekend and can be purchased online in advance.
Washington said this is what the fair is all about and what it was originally created to do.
“The California Fair is meant to showcase what California has to offer,” she said.