Hormel joins chili-making fray at Edgerton's Chilimania

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, September 4, 2013

EDGERTON—This Saturday, one of the world's top corporate producers of canned chili will get a lesson in home-style cooking from some of the best chili makers in the country.

Among the new offerings this year at Edgerton's annual Chilimania cook-off is a canned food drive, and one of the festival's newest sponsors, Hormel, plans to match the drive can for can—with cans of Hormel chili.

The food drive will benefit Edgerton Outreach, a nonprofit food pantry, festival organizer Tom Reitz said.

It's the first time in almost a quarter-century of operations that Chilimania has had an organized food drive attached to it. Reitz said Hormel approached Chilimania with the sponsorship idea.

The chili giant plans to have its own promotional stand, and Hormel representatives will cook up the company's own signature chili alongside the festival's 65 competitors.

“Who better to have as a sponsor and also a partner to help out the community than one of the chili kings of the world?” Reitz said.

Some of Chilimania's competitors might argue with Reitz about who is the chili king. The festival's cooks come from all over the country and around Wisconsin to compete in the nationally sanctioned Chili Appreciation Society International Wisconsin State Championship cook-off.

Some highlights from the past 23 years, according to Reitz, have included spicy white chicken chili, chocolate chili, green chili, Cincinnati-style cinnamon chili, chili with steak smoked over a charcoal grill, and tequila-infused chili.

Cooks at Chilimania dream up new varieties every year, and people can try as many spicy tastes of chili as they can handle at a public tasting in the afternoon. Reitz thinks if Hormel folks mingle at the festival grounds in downtown Edgerton, it's possible the company could pick up a few spicy ideas.

“Who knows? Maybe Hormel will taste some of the great chilies here and be inspired to launch a Hormel 'Chilimania supreme competition-style chili,'” he said.

Along with live music, beer and other food besides chili, Chilimania has another new feature this year: Festival attendees can sign up to be official chili-tasting judges for the national chili contest and the more wide-open, traditional competition.

In past years, Reitz said, Chilimania has selected its judges by invitation only. He said the festival decided to have an open signup this year to make sure organizers get the 40 or so judges they need for the cook-off. Signup at the event tents is first-come, first-served.

What qualifications do you need to be an official chili judge?

It's not hard,” Reitz said. “You have to really, really love chili, and you can't be scared of a little spice. All you do is taste a chili, throw the spoon over your shoulder, get another spoon and taste another one.

“One thing, though—if you're a vegetarian, no offense, you're automatically out. Too much meat.”

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