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179th Erie County Fair steeped in taste and tradition

This year’s Erie County Fair is less than two weeks away and, as usual, the fair promises to have plenty of food options to choose from – many of them steeped in tradition.

The Erie County Fair has long been a place to see and taste new things.

“A lot of Western New Yorkers, their first exposure to pizza was at the fair,” said Marketing Manager Marty Biniasz. “If you think about it, if you lived in Colden, or Marilla, or Alden, they didn’t have pizzerias. But when you came to show your animals in the 1920s, they were exposed to those Italian vendors from Blasdell and the West Side.”

For many of its soon-to-be 179 years, the fair has seen food vendors return year after year. Kathleen Chiavetta’s family has been serving its famous barbecue chicken there since 1956. They’ve kept that tradition alive because it’s something people rely on.

“People are used to it,” said Chiavetta. “They know what they’re getting. I think we’re a destination within the fair. People look for us. Some people tell us it’s the reason they come to the fair.”

Jack Kolassa is another vendor whose family has been a staple at the fair.

“My whole family owns a taffy and fudge stand here. Between my grandpa and my father owning it, we’ve been here for over 65 years,” said Kolassa.

Now Kolassa is carrying on the that tradition with his own business, The Big Cheese. In addition to bringing back items like Buffalo Wing Grilled Cheese, Kolassa is debuting a grilled cheese with bacon, sandwiched between two slices glazed donut.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Jack Kolassa's Donut Grilled Cheese with Bacon, made at The Big Cheese food stand at the Erie County Fair.

“I’ve always thought that you could go a ton of different directions and this year I chose the donut,” said Kolassa. “It fits right into that fair feeling of just eating something deep fried and throwing some more cheese and bacon on it. It really blends well. It’s going to be fun.”

This year’s fair will feature Kolassa’s donut grilled cheese and numerous other items in its New Food Showdown, and fairgoers will get to pick their favorite using the event’s mobile app. And for those wanting to try something new without going all in, the fair is also bringing back its “Taste of the Fair” on Monday, August 13. Each of the fair’s 125 vendors will offer samples of many of the 500 items on this year’s menu.

“So instead of getting a big giant slice of something that you might not want, you’ll get a nice-size taste for two dollars. People have found out at the end of the day, they’re spending ten, fifteen dollars and being completely filled, and they’ve been able to expose themselves or explore different food items at the fair,” said Biniasz.

This year’s fair runs from August 8-19 at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg.

Follow @SAvery131

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.