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All hail the SPAM King: California town holds 25th annual festival honoring the meat

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

This Sunday, hundreds of people are expected to converge on the town of Isleton, south of Sacramento, Calif., all to celebrate one thing - Spam.

PAUL STEELE: I don't know what to tell you about it. It just - it tastes good (laughter).

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

This is the 25th annual Isleton Spam Festival, and this is the guy in charge.

STEELE: My name is Paul Steele, and I am the Spam king.

KELLY: And yes, the Spam king dresses the part.

STEELE: I come dressed like a big can of Spam. I have a hat that looks like a can of Spam and a suit that looks like a can of Spam.

SUMMERS: The festival's roots go back to the late 1990s, when a flood hit the town. Steele says everything perishable spoiled, but the Spam was spared.

STEELE: So in the midst of that, we just banded together and decided to make lemonade out of a lemon and see who could make the best Spam dish. And the festival was derived from that and is what it is today.

KELLY: On Sunday, there will be a Spam toss - from one person to another - and they are not throwing the can, to be clear, but the meat itself.

STEELE: It's like an egg toss, where, you know, you throw your Spam from one person to another. And then they step back 15 feet, and then they throw it back. And I think, last year, the new record was 80 feet. But by the time you get back to 80 feet, it's a little bit mushy, and it's a little bit slimy, and it's not totally all intact.

SUMMERS: There is also a Spam-eating contest, but no hands allowed.

KELLY: And a Spam cooking contest, too, where the canned ham and pork product features in, truly, like, all sorts of dishes.

STEELE: What these guys come up with is amazing. I mean, I've seen everything from Spam ice cream, Spam cupcakes, Spam jerky, Spam burritos and Spam tamales.

KELLY: Steele says his favorite dish from years past is actually the Spam cheesecake.

STEELE: It is the same texture of a regular cheesecake you would buy at a store. There was a glaze on top. There was caramelized Spam in it. It's white, but it's the exact same texture as a regular cheesecake.

KELLY: Actually kind of sounds good.

SUMMERS: I am less convinced. The festival is free to attend, though there is a small fee to participate in some of the events, which Steele says helps raise money for school supplies for the local PTA.

KELLY: As for Steele, after more than a decade as the Spam king, he says he's ready to pass on the crown - or the Spam can hat, as it were.

STEELE: I'm going to be turning over the reins this year to another person here in Isleton, Calif. So there's a time to retire, you know? And I think it's time to go.

KELLY: May we all know when it is time to go - to the Isleton Spam Festival, that is. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jordan-Marie Smith
Jordan-Marie Smith is a producer with NPR's All Things Considered.
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.