The Orange Country Fair is known regionally as a very nice family event with tractor, oxen and horse pulls; animal exhibits; pig races; children’s activity area; and contests for baking, photography, children’s crafts, artwork, biggest pumpkin, tallest sunflower and so much more.
Some people look forward to something else entirely — the food! You can find all the traditional favorites in the main food tent under the pavilion including Hot Roast Beef au jus on a hard roll; Philly Cheese Steak Sub; LONGHINI Chicken Sausage & Pepper Sub; fried dough; Clam chowder and more. Then there’s the satellite tent on the lower fairgrounds where the aroma of roasted meat beckons you to stop by for a sandwich. This is where the first selectman can be found cooking up food for the majority of the two-day fair.
Preparing for the fair
While visiting the High Plains Community Center on Tuesday, I was drawn down the hall toward the Senior cafeteria by the amazing smell of “Sunday Dinner” coming from the kitchen. The ovens were filled with large covered roasting pans and I couldn’t help but stand there and take in the aroma — Ah, roast pork — It was unmistakable.
As I was leaving, First Selectman Jim Zeoli walked in through the back door and headed for the kitchen. What could I do, I had to follow him and find out what his role was in the process. (Click HERE for Video)
Many years ago, Zeoli and resident Ron Ruotolo came up with the idea of a satellite food tent to feed the fairgoers who were enjoying the activities on the lower fairgrounds. Here they’ve been serving hearty sub sandwiches and meals with roasted meats, and this location is famous for its pulled pork.
Every year, Zeoli prepares pork butts (Provided by *Napoli Meats out of New Haven), seasoning them with his special blend of shredded onions, brown sugar, hot pepper and several other spices.
The pork is so popular that in 2016, he decided to roast 606 pounds (70 pounds more than in 2015) of boneless pork butts, which he began cooking on Tuesday morning. Each tray holds two pork butts, and each oven holds 6 trays. The meat roasts at a moderate heat for 7 hours, then Zeoli returns in late afternoon to remove them from the oven, drain the pans and allow them to cool before a group of women come in at night to rake (pull) the pork. This process continues every day until the fair opens on Saturday.
The Satellite Tent also serves roast pork (if you don’t care for the pulled version); a sausage that has broccoli rabe and garlic inside the casing served on a sub and topped with roasted garlic and broccoli rabe; rib eye steak; lollipop lamb chops; a sauteed vegetable sub; and fried pickles and jalepeno chips served with a chipotle sauce. All of these specialties are cooked with love by dedicated fair volunteers.
“We try to provide fair supporters with the highest quality, most delicious food and we’re very proud of what we do,” Zeoli said.
The Orange Country Fair runs this weekend at the Orange Fairgrounds, 525 Orange Center Road, Saturday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
*An Orange resident owns Napoli Meat and Sausage Company.