Blue Ribbon Awards--what NOT to miss at the State Fair

Every weekday of the State Fair, we bring you our 'not to be missed' spots and events. Take a look at our suggestions.

Choices on how to spend your time at the State Fair can be overwhelming. Here are our 'tips' on what you probably won't want to miss this year, our nightly Blue Ribbon Award winners. And if you have 'don't miss this' suggestions, we welcome your input! (click on the titles to see the videos)

~Butterfly Garden.

This exhibit is back for its second year, and besides Monarchs, there are nine other species of butterflies on display this year. Going in is free, and for $1 you can buy a 'sugar stick' which attracts the butterflies to you (it's the nectar they feed on). It's a truly magical experience for all ages (in the Horticulture Building)

You'll be checked as you leave so that you don't accidentally take 'hitchhikers' with you. Attendants say everyone leaves with a smile.

~State Fair Museum

New this year, this is a collection of pictures, timelines, videos and artifacts from past State Fairs.

It is a great look back (the 1960s video is fun even if you're not a Fair fan) and lots of visitors can be heard saying 'I remember that' as they walk through. (in the Grange Building, next to the Dairy Barn).

This exhibit is the brainchild of Fair Agriculture Manager Mel Chesbro, and was built by Fair employees, who also had input on its content. The hope is, and it's already happening, that people who come to see will also add to the trivia information and also loan/donate Fair memorabilia they have at home.

"Older" fairgoers will truly appreciate this, though we saw lots of grandparents showing children 'how it was back then' as well.

~Taste New York

Eight or nine vendors, different each day of the Fair, are offering free samples daily in a tent right across from the Fair main entrance.

This latest effort to showcase and promote New York-made food and drink is an instant hit with fairgoers, and with vendors as well, who are pitching their products.

Besides the vendors in the tent, there is also a Taste New York around the fairgrounds with more samples and education about what's made here--pick up a card in the tent and get stamps at the other locations and you're eligible for prizes, too.

~Sheep Barn and Wool Center

Syracuse's Wool Center is looking to expand, and to move to higher ground--next to, instead of across from the sheep barn at the State Fairgrounds.

The current building was opened in 1974 and Wool Superintendent Linda Miller says it floods every time it rains (Monday night water was just flowing through, and they had to close early).

They're looking to raise $80-thousand and are about a quarter of the way. A sheep poster on a sign outside the Wool Center will get a new piece of clothing each time they pass a $10-thousand dollar mark. So far, it's sporting a blue wool scarf.

Some of the building fund is coming from selling fiber products and crafts like hats and scarves, all donated by the various wool and spinning groups in Central New York.

Empire Sheep Producers, the umbrella organization for sheep producers' organizations, owns the building now and is also involved in developing a new one. Keith Stumbo, who raises sheep in Honeoye, south of Rochester, says it's more than support for the 'traditional' crafters.

SuperWash Wool is the 'hot' product --the process allows wool to be soft enough to be worn next to the skin. It has important applications for military and first responders, because wool does not burn, or melt like current plastics used for clothing and body armor, and so could perhaps protect our defenders better from IEDs and other incendiary devices. Stumbo says a South Carolina plant, owned by the wool industry 'trade group' is bringing it online, and it could mean a lot more demand, and higher prices, for sheep farmers. Stumbo hopes the wool center will also educate the public in this area.

For more on the building drive, Linda Miller can be reached at 638-2508, or

~Fair Food: Pizze Fritte

It's not the State Fair without a sausage sandwich for many fairgoers, but just as many have to stop for a pizza fritte--or two.

Grazi Zazzara runs it now, but it was his father who opened the landmark A-frame at the 'crossroads' behind the Dairy Building in 1960. He says 'fried dough' originated in this booth, and has now spread nationwide, but his father patented the machine that flattens and cuts the dough for the Villa's trademark foot long, sugar-coated fried dough.

The pizze fritte (420 calories a foot) are served up hot from the fryers, but its not just the food that's the attraction here: the workers put on a show as well, dancing to music as they work.

Fried dough may be the product, but for the hundreds of high school-aged workers who've spent Fairs working here, it's also a valuable experience in team loyalty, having fun with co-workers. "Oh yeah, you get to have some fun and it makes the day go faster, 3 year veteran Seth Dailey from Liverpool High School told us.

Understanding the importance of hard work and working together to succeed is also clearly a lesson that gets across fast. "Just trying to do my best for him, keep it going," first year worker from Solvay High School Angelo DiNatale says.

They do work hard: we watched as Zazzara dumped a freshly mixed batch of dough onto a floured board in the back of the A-frame, and cut it into balls. The balls are then fed into a machine--patented by his father---which flattens the balls and cuts them into strips. Two workers stand at the foot of the conveyor belt, scooping up the strips and loading them into shallow trays, to be taken to the front of the store, where the strips are pulled to a foot long and twirled to give them swirls, then fried and put into a bin where they're doused with sugar. Most are so hot when they're sold--in long paper bags--that customers have to shift them hand to hand to keep their fingers comfortable.

There have been three generations of workers, with several couples who've met and married. Grandparents and parents come back to reminisce. And Grazi's sons work here as well. One, married, is expecting in a couple months.

"We don't know if it will be a grandson or a granddaughter," he says, 'but either one we have a job for him.'

(If you miss Pizze Fritte at the State Fair, they're also at several local festivals, including Oswego Harborfest and, coming up in mid-September, Syracuse's Festa Italiana.)

~State Police MemorabiliaThe Trooper exhibit at the Fair has thousands of visitors for its several times a day, every day shows, with divers, tower rappellers, K-9s and more.

There's also an exhibit of trooper memorabilia inside, on the side of the 'stage.' And there's an appeal out to help expand this, with the 100th anniversary of the NY State Police coming up in 2017.

Investigator John Fallon, who works major crimes out of Oneida, is the 'curator' of this display. He does it because he wants people to remember the Trooper traditions.

Some of the items are fascinating--the original log book (from 1917) of Troop D: Fallon says he loves showing families the cases their great grandfathers worked on. Also lots of pictures, of the old motorcycle riders (minus helmets) and the 1973 first class of women police academy grads (in skirts, and how it was photographed may raise eyebrows).

Fallon is looking for more memorabilia, including old pictures, which would be copied and returned. And old uniforms, leather goods like belts or saddles, and more. He's sure lots of people have the 'buried' in basements and attics.

You can bring them to the State Fair, or get in touch at Troop D (363-4400).

Why? To remind families of Troopers of their legacies, and to show those still in service, of the traditions they're carrying on.

~Chicks at the Fair

The baby chicks exhibit, in the Youth Building, always draws a crowd. Visitors see eggs as they incubate and hatch, then newborn chicks, which they can hold.

It's a memorable experience for young children. It's a Fair photo op for parents. And many 'older' people stop by too, some bringing their children, others telling us it a 'must stop' spot every year at the Fair.

The display is staffed by 4-H representatives from all over the state, who instruct on how to hold the chicks, and also answer questions. Among the most common, according to Richard Lawson, a high school sophomore from Clifton Springs, 'how long do the eggs take to hatch?' (answer: 21 days.) He also tells us that several people have asked

how long the babies need their mothers' milk (seriously? Chickens are birds, not mammals!)

Even though most visitors are never going to raise poultry, Lawson is convinced the exhibit is educational. "I mean, it inspires a lot of people to look aroud and ask where else does my food and other animals come from?"

~Baked Potato Booth

They shattered the record for baked potatoes sold at th3 2013 State Fair, close to 55-thousand.

Connie Manfrates, who managed the booth, says the potatoes, from the Williams farm in Marion, south of Rochester, and the toppings, donated by Heluva Good! in Sodus, were a bargain that fairgoers don't pass up. "It's a great deal---a dollar for a potato with all the toppings on it. You can eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner and it fills you up."

People standing in line told us they did not mind the wait, that getting a potato is a tradition. One man said the line the last day was pretty short---compared to earlier in the week when it was almost out the front door of the Horticulture Building. Manfrates told us that separating the drinks out of the buying process shortened the lines considerably, to about 15 minutes for most customers.

One more piece of baked potato trivia: customers can ask for their toppings, and 'loaded' or 'butter' or 'sour cream' were not the most common, according to the behind the counter team, it was 'more cheese.'

~We hope you've enjoyed our don't miss picks at this year's Fair. Let us know if you have more ideas, for next year!