Loretta Estrada is shown at the outdoor kitchen at Deer Park where this year's Testicle Festival will take place Aug. 27.
WATSONVILLE — Nine years ago, young farmers looking to raise money for the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau approached the Estrada family with a controversial idea: They wanted to hold a testicle festival.
Today, the tradition continues with Loretta Estrada at the helm, cooking and preparing more than 100 pounds of “Rocky Mountain Oysters” for the masses.
“They wanted something different, something new and threw the words out, ‘let’s have a testicle festival,’” Estrada said. “We said, ‘that is a very catchy little name.’”
For the first three years, organizers tried out different locations, before finally taking it home to the Estrada Ranch in Watsonville.
“We are in a beautiful location, it’s a serene place, a place I truly love with all my heart so when I’m here it’s like my second home,” she said. “Of course everything gelled, everything went right, nothing went wrong.”
Having bucked it for three years, Estrada said they have held it there ever since and has declared Deer Camp at Estrada Ranch the perfect location.
A few years after its inception, organizers began holding a dipping sauce competition complete with a trophy. Bowls labeled “Great Balls of Fire” or something just as catchy now adorn the table for people to judge.
“It’s kinda cute and it makes people want to be more a part of it,” Estrada said.
But with the competition comes variety, and dips come in all sorts of flavors and spices.
“Some of them are so hot it’s totally inhumanly possible to eat them,” she said. “But a lot of people like that real hot fire.”
The festival includes live band performances, horseshoe competitions, drinks and a silent auction, with the night ending at 7:30 p.m. or so, after a full barbecue dinner. This year it was announced that “No Respect” was selected to play — a band known for their wide range of songs from rock and roll to Latin.
But for Estrada, it is all about the cooking. Responsible for helping people overcome a natural hesitation over eating testicles, she has it all down to a science.
“I don’t want them too done, I don’t want them too raw, they got to be a certain color because I want the people to really like them,” she said. “So that’s always a good feeling, to do that.”
Referring to them as something akin to “little chicken nuggets,” Estrada said while some people start out a little squeamish, most who try them end up going on to eat plate-fulls.
“People just moan and groan. One guest, it was like trying to pull teeth getting him to try it, but he did and he loved it,” she said of one attendee who had traveled from Los Angeles to attend the festival some years ago. “Not everybody is gonna want to try them, but those that do love ‘em.”
With nobody else holding an event like this anywhere else in the county, people’s enjoyment is a source of pride for Estrada.
The festival is put on by the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee and will be held on Saturday beginning at 3 p.m. For people entering sauces into the competition, they must arrive before 2:30 p.m. with forms provided on arrival.
The price for attending is $50 for adults, $20 for children and will include a chicken barbecue dinner. The “It’s All in the Sauce” contest will have two divisions: Amateur and Commercial with each attendee having the opportunity to vote for their favorite.
While this is only one of the food-centered fundraisers Estrada helps cook for, it holds special meaning because of who is involved.
“It’s good to see the young blood get involved and trying to do something that pertains to ranching and farming,” Estrada said. “It’s nice to see the next generation stepping forth.”
Ideas like this she said takes imagination and can only happen when the younger farmers get involved.
“The old-timers, they would have never thought of putting a testicle festival on,” she said. “It took the young kids to say let’s move forward and try something different — and they did.”
For tickets, call 722-6622 or find the Testicle Festival on eventbrite.com and search for “8th Annual Testicle Festival.”
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