MOUNT VERNON — Wednesday’s annual Lamb Cook-off at the Knox County Fair had an amazing variety of food to offer. Entries ranged from creatively concocted lamb dishes featuring Mediterranean-influenced Lamb in Grape Leaves, Caribbean-style Lamb Curry, and Greek-influenced Lamb Gyros — to the more Americanized Lamb Mac and Cheese.
The two teens and five adults competing in the event, sponsored by the Knox County Sheep Improvement Association, did so in the grassy area beside the fair’s Sheep Barn, placing their best lamb delectables in skillets and pots on top of folding tables. It was a busy day for Lamb Cook-off coordinator Tami Ruckman; not only did she get all entries organized with their respective recipes placed in front of each entrant, she has also entered the contest herself — as did her husband, John K. Ruckman, and their daughter-in-law, Amelia Ruckman.
The event was judged by a group of four, including radio station WNZR’s Joe Rinehart, daughter Rachel Rinehart and Hunter Sutyak, as well as Larry Di Giovanni of the News. Joe Rinehart developed a point system whereby each judge voted on his or her top three choices in the adult category, with four points for first place, three points for second and two points for third.
When all was said and done, it was John K. Ruckman’s Margarita Lime Lamb Nachos that took first place with two first-place votes and two second-place votes. Judges agreed that Ruckman’s lamb nachos were somewhat sweet, yet with a bit of sour that added a “kick” to the flavor. The margarita mix helps make that happen although there is no alcohol in the recipe.
Ruckman immediately celebrated his win by picking up his young grandson, John L. Ruckman, so they could see the table before foods were taken home. The crowd was invited in along with judges to enjoy a free meal, and they were greeted by lamb lovers including Alexa Jones, Sheep Ambassador and Junior Fair Board president.
“Honestly, I think it’s just a good balance of the meat and spices, and the shredded cheese, so that you get a little bit of everything,” Ruckman said. His wife, Tami, received many compliments for her Lamb Mac and Cheese, while daughter-in-law Amelia took third place for her sweet-tasting Balsamic Cherry Glazed Lamb.
Second place went to Judy Jagger for her Mediterranean-influenced Lamb in Grape leaves. This dish combines ground lamb with olive oil, rice, onion, cinnamon, lemon juice, and of course grape leaves, grown by her daughter on her grape arbor. The lemon gave the dish a bit of citrus flavor good for those looking for a healthy dish.
Yet another entrant receiving kudos for her dish was Dorinda Kline, who cooked rectangular, thin strips of lamb meat in an electric skillet for her Sheep Gyro. The meat is placed in pita bread with other ingredients including thinly sliced tomato.
In the junior category for those ages 8 to 18, first place went to Rebekah Conrad, 15, of Butler, for her Caribbean-style Lamb Curry. She had to work on Wednesday, so showing her dish to judges was her father, Mike Conrad. The spice-filled dish takes hours of slow cooking, and judges were impressed. Second place went to Lane Reynolds, 13, of Gambier, who made tasty lamb meatballs.