Turkey testicles and live music drew a crowd to a new venue for its 39th year.
BYRON — Theresa Liechty was in town today to have lunch with her brother, Steve Yancy.
The Naperville resident never thought that meal would be battered, deep-fried turkey testicles.
“At first I refused,” Liechty said. “It was nothing I was remotely interested in.”
But by the afternoon, her cup of turkey testicles was empty, and she had developed an appreciation for Byron’s 39th Annual Turkey Testicle Festival, the oldest testicle-eating festival in the country, and possibly the world.
“They’re actually pretty good,” Liechty said. “Now I can say, ‘I’ve had turkey testicles.'”
The testicle festival dropped today for the first time at Costa’s Ristorante, 133 E. Blackhawk Drive. Dozens of people consumed about 200 pounds of turkey testicles. And while the delicacy might be stomach-churning to some, this isn’t an event you should, shall we say, turn your head and scoff at.
It’s a fundraiser. This year, proceeds are going to the Byron Police Department’s Operation Santa Claus, the Village of Progress in Oregon and local hospice care.
A $7 wristband earned admission and at least one small cup of turkey testicles. Beer and mixed drinks were sold, and there was live music throughout the day. Sunset Strip — a 1980s rock ‘n’ roll tribute band from Rockford — was the headline act.
“It’s a little bit of something for everybody,” said Scotty Von Blazin, a member of Sunset Strip. “It’s just a fun day for people to come out and have a good time; it’s just like a street festival. As the night goes on, it becomes more adult.”
Other testicle chow-downs take place in small communities across the U.S., but Byron has the oldest. Huntley’s Turkey Testicle Festival turns 35 later this year. There also are testicle-eating festivals in Montana, Missouri, California, Oklahoma and Idaho. The World Testicle Cooking Championship in Serbia was held for the 14th time about a month ago.
Some serve turkey testicles. Others prefer the testicles of bulls and other animals. Some are eating contests.
The idea for Byron’s event came to Frank Maragi when some buddies gave him turkey testicles as a gag gift. A year later, in 1978, he bought about 25 pounds, fried them up and served them at his bar, Union Street Station.
The event was held there until the bar burned down in 2011, and Maragi moved away. The festival then moved downtown until this year. Saro Costa, the owner of Costa’s Ristorante, along with neighboring bar owners, bought the rights to the festival from Maragi’s family over time.
“It’s not the same as it was when Frank was around,” Costa said. “It just doesn’t have that same aura when he did it, but we’re trying to get it back to what it was.”
Yancy, who brought his sister to the event, has been attending for about 30 years.
“It’s gotten more popular since it’s been around so long,” he said. “It would be nice if it was back inside a building. There was more of an atmosphere when it was like that.”
This year, turkey testicles doubled in price to about $2.60 per pound due to “more demand,” Costa said.
So, how do they taste?
“They’re interesting,” Felecia Gulke, who lives just outside of Byron, said after she finished her first — and probably last, she said — cup of turkey testicles with hot sauce. “It’s like a cross between a chicken liver and chicken gizzard.”
Her husband, Jerry Gulke, said he prefers chicken McNuggets.
And just in case you didn’t know, turkey testicles are located underneath the wings, not, well, elsewhere.
“Once you get past knowing what you’re eating, there’s not much to it,” Von Blazin said.
Noshing on his first cup today, Rafael Huitzacua of Loves Park said he hoped to at least match the nine cups he ate last year.
“I’ve always eaten them,” he said. “I like the taste of them. … We’ll be here awhile.”
Adam Poulisse: 815-987-1344; email@example.com; @adampoulisse