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Rocky Mtn. Oyster Feed is Sat.

Pam BoydEagle CorrespondentVail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado Rocky Mountain oysters are the stuff of cowboy legend.Thats not to say they are everyones proverbial cup of tea.Luckily oysters arent the only thing on the menu for the 19th annual Eagle County Fair and Rodeo Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed. Partygoers also can chow down on barbecue beef and side dishes provided by Moes BBQ in Eagle, while enjoying background music by the Margarita Brothers and later dirt dancing to the tunes of the Chris King Band.The annual fund-raiser has seen some changes for 2008. Most notably, the event will be celebrated tonight, July 26, beginning at 6 p.m. at the Eagle County Fairgrounds. In years past, the feed was a wintertime celebration.I think the schedule change is a really good fit for us. In the winter, we competed with a lot of community events, says Eagle County Fair Board President Rachel Overlease.She envisions a great evening by the river, with families and friends gathered to celebrate the opening weekend of the fair. Long after the last oyster has been downed, the impact from the feed will still reverberate. When the fund-raiser began 19 years ago, the money raised was earmarked for fairgrounds improvements. Today, funds raised during the celebration benefit local 4-H programs and youth scholarships.

Trent Eichler claims the slightly dubious distinction of being the man who brought the Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed to Eagle County.As he tells it, he was pheasant hunting with friends in Nebraska when he was invited to the local fire departments prairie oyster feed. I thought Man! What a unique idea.Eichler came home to Eagle County and set about selling his fellow members of the Eagle County Fair Board on the idea. Gradually they warmed up to the idea. The first oyster feed was put together in roughly three weeks. Its success spawned the second annual event. Now, 19 years later, the Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed routinely attracts a crowd of 400 to 500 people. I never dreamed it would get so big. Its amazing to me that we have such a following.Tonight a seasoned crew will be serving up the oysters. Eichler, together with retired Colorado State University Extension Agent Joe Winstead and long-time Gypsum local Gary Hollandsworth, will be manning the deep fat fryer. Ill tell people we use an old-family recipe, if that gets them to come, he offers with a laugh.In fact, the oysters are provided by a local food distribution company. Theres not enough ranchers in the valley to supply them these days, said Eichler.Theres definitely a trick to serving a perfect Rocky Mountain Oyster. They cant sit around too long so the crew doesnt want to cook up too many at one time. But when the crowd arrives, they dont want people to be left waiting either. But the time in line provides an opportunity to persuade nervous diners. We get people daring each other to eat them, says Eichler. Theres a lot of people who come up and say no thank you but then other people get to ribbing them and they end up trying them.As they well should, according to Eichler. Not trying them is like going to Maine and not trying the lobster.But even Overlease admits she doesnt savor the fund-raisers signature dish. I dont usually eat them, but they are supposed to be great with lot of barbecue sauce or ranch dressing, she says.Eichler disagrees. He takes his Rocky Mountain oysters straight. Theres no sense hiding the flavor, he said.And, he adds, Rocky Mountain Oysters are rumored to offer more than culinary enjoyment.They are supposed to be an aphrodisiac, but I dont know if theres any truth to that, he concludes.

The official meat classification for Rocky Mountain oysters, also know as prairie oysters or calf fries, is offal. Rocky Mountain oysters share this description with other somewhat questionable, although edible, animal products such as chicken gizzards, beef tripe and chitlins.Rocky Mountain oysters are the testicles of bulls or sheep. They are usually sliced, breaded, deep-fried and served with dipping sauce as appetizers.


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