BOWLING GREEN - Jen Horvath got a little coaching as she prepared to order her first pork-a-lean sandwich - make that two pork-a-leans - yesterday at the Wood County Fair.
Kurt Rasmusson, a pork-a-lean lover from as far back as he can remember, was next to the Sylvania woman in line and suggested she get two - they only cost $1.25 after all - and squirt a bit of ketchup on top.
"This is the real deal," Mr. Rasmusson, 23, said after taking a bite of what has become the fair's signature sandwich.
"This is the only time I ever eat a pork sandwich. It's just good," he said.
"It is," Ms. Horvath agreed after trying hers. "It's obviously not hamburger."
Her mother had recommended the sandwich.
"She said you've got to get a pork-a-lean. That is the sandwich to have at the fair, and by tonight the line will be a mile long," Ms. Horvath said.
For more than 20 years, the Wood County Pork Producers have been selling the sandwich they bill as "100 percent whole hog" during the fair. Before the week is out, they will have sold 15,000 of the quarter-pound patties.
"They're not greasy. They're good for you. They're lean," said Marjorie Lang, who admits to being a bit partial.
Ms. Lang used to raise hogs on her farm north of Bowling Green and has two daughters who were crowned pork queens.
Nellie Woelke, secretary of the pork producers organization, explained the popularity of the pork-a-lean quite simply: "You can get a hamburger anywhere."
The pork-a-lean booth was started not to raise money but to promote pork, she said.
Using hogs raised on local farms, the pork producers began working with Belleville Market in Bowling Green to make the patties, whose secret ingredient is not so secret.
"The pork producers came up with the idea of a 100 percent whole hog sausage sandwich, which means the hams and the loins are ground along with the shoulders. Everything is used in the sausage so you've got your better cuts going in," said Jamie Belleville, who co-owns the South Main Street meat market with his brother, Michael.
Because the pork producers didn't know what to call the lean, mean sandwich, a contest was held to name it, and the group agreed "pork-a-lean" summed it up the best.
"They wanted people to think of pork as lean, not fat," Mrs. Woelke explained.
Belleville Market begins making the pork-a-leans for the fair a month ahead of time, although the pork-a-lean is a big seller year-round.
"I think it's something that people from Wood County can lay claim to as it being their own," Mr. Belleville said. "If you ever get tired of a hamburger, try a pork-a-lean. It's a great alternative."
Fair Board President Dale Brown said the pork-a-lean booth is easily one of the most popular food stands at the fair - something he attributes both to the price and the flavor.
"You can buy them and put them on the grill at home, but they never taste the same at home as they do at the fair," he said.
Wood County Commissioner Tim Brown likes to grill pork-a-leans when he's having relatives over, and he's served them at political fund-raisers he's hosted over the years.
"It's the most popular food item at the Wood County Fair, and it seems that almost anyone who's been to the fair has had at least one pork-a-lean," Mr. Brown said. "They're pretty convenient as well. The pork will cook faster than beef will. So as far as doing events when you're serving a lot of people, they're real convenient."
Mr. Brown said that while he loves to eat a pork-a-lean - he eats his with horseradish - he didn't want to slight the beef producers, who have a stand not far from the pork producers' booming enterprise.
"The beef producers' rib-eye sandwiches are a little more expensive, but if you like rib-eye it's a great sandwich as well," he said. "I usually work in a few rib-eyes during fair week, too."
The fair, which started Tuesday, continues through Monday.
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