By Charlie Johnston
New York Times reporter Patricia Leigh Brown explained it as discreetly as I’ve ever seen in a 2009 feature about the event: “These oysters were not of the Chesapeake or bluepoint variety but, rather, a cornerstone of Western ranching culture involving testicles from gelded lambs and calves.” I, on the other hand, was pointedly less discreet in a 2008 blog titled “Balls out in Virginia City!”
Whether subtle or in your face, the truth remains that this is an event centered around the cooking and eating of testicles. In the tradition of Food Network’s “Iron Chef” and similar shows, professional and amateur chefs start with the same base ingredient (to reiterate, testicles), combine their unique brand of accompaniments and seasonings, and hope their balls are best. While most chefs stick to the namesake and flatten and fry the dangly delicacies in a traditional sea-bourn oyster breading, I’ve seen them ground up for chili and curries; combined with breadcrumbs, corn, and peppers and rolled into ball meatballs; sautéed in a creamy French pinot grigio sauce; tempura battered; mixed with nachos; and, of course, wrapped in bacon.
While a handful of people reading this are probably cringing at the mere thought of eating such meats, the 22-year-old event is hugely popular, and cojone connoisseurs arrive early and line up to get their share of the gourmet gonads, proof that perhaps they aren’t as unappetizing as you might think. “Most people know what we’re cooking but a lot don’t,” say longtime competitor Brandi Lee in a 2012 KOLO8 (Reno’s ABC affiliate) story. “They taste it and like it…and then we tell them what’s in it!”
Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry, Virginia City