NOTE: This blog was published on statesman.com in May 2017. I was a week late learning about the 'Testicle Festival,' but the more I read, the more I knew i had to break the rules to write about it.
The Castell Testicle Festival was last weekend: Nuts, we missed it
By Dave Thomas
For some years, the Castell General Store was home to a rooster named Cockaroo and a novelty faux-taxidermy fish called a Big Mouth Billy Bass. You remember those, right? A plastic mounted fish that would twitch and sing?
Somehow — and we’d like to know how — the owner of Cockaroo discovered that if he placed the fish on the ground, the rooster would hump it. Vigorously. It was a love that was neither fish nor fowl. (I’m not making this up. There’s video.)
This was a thing. Many people came to Castell to see Cockaroo. After it was over, they probably all made the same “got a cigarette?” joke. It was a good time for Castell. But Cockaroo has been dead for eight years. Taxidermy has kept him around, but in a much less lusty state.
So if you’re a small community west of Llano, just how do you follow that up?
You hold a Testicle Festival.
I’m not making that up either. Last weekend was the Sixth Annual Castell Testicle Festival. They were expecting a crowd of hundreds for an afternoon of live music, washer-pitching and the delicacy euphemistically known as “calf fries.”
I wasn’t one of those few hundred people. Chances are you weren’t either. And that’s not how this usually works. Usually, either I tell you this is going to happen, and you go. Or I go, and I tell you what happened.
But it was a Testicle Festival. (Like “fire storm” or “snake farm” — a pair of immediately evocative words. And so poetic that they resist the modern urge to just call it a “Testival.”) And it was less than a hundred miles from Austin. So we’re going to make an exception.
Let’s start with the ’nads
The idea of a “Testicle Festival” is not new. Byron, Illinois, has held a “Turkey Testicle Festival” since 1979. Yes, turkeys. This article calls them “beige-colored, kidney bean-shaped, thumb-sized ...” which seems impressive for turkeys.
More often than not, the family jewels belong to young bull calves who have been castrated for our benefit, not theirs. If the Native American tradition was to use every part of the buffalo, the Mid-American tradition is to deep-fry it and serve it with lots of beer and peer pressure.
There are nearly a dozen other such festivals across the nation, including Clinton, Montana’s “Testy Festy”, Stillwater, Oklahoma’s “Tumbleweed Calf Fry” and a three-day festival in Fargo, North Dakota, which saw a riot in 2001 where 7 were arrested.
However, the “World Testicle Cooking Championship” is held each year in Serbia. The “About Testicles” portion of their web page defends the “delicacy” as food fit for a king, and says “Please bear in mind that some of those dishes, goulash in particular, should not be on a regular daily menu as they are very rich and fattening. But, it’s for good sex life.”
So you have that.
In addition to “calf fries,” these treats are also called “Rocky Mountain Oysters,” prairie oysters” and the fabulous “swinging beef.” But ... how do they taste? I don’t know. I once mistakenly ate “sweetbreads” at the Terlingua Chili Cookoff when I thought the guy was talking about cinnamon rolls. He wasn’t. Not by a long shot. And I’ve been not hungry in strange places ever since.
But this reviewer at Modern Farmer says they do not taste like chicken, After a how-to on cooking, including a queasy bit about “removing excess membrane,” she says they are “mostly like scallops in consistency, without the briny taste, and not any more off-putting than, say, a corndog.” The Phoenix New Times is a little less thorough, saying they’re like “Beefy, mild liver meatballs. Above anything, they taste fried.”
Now let’s talk about Castell
In a 2008 travel story, Statesman reporter Pamela LeBlanc talked to Randy Leifeste, owner of the Castell General Store and, by extension, empresario of the small town. He said Castell was “Luckenbach on the Llano” — which seems like too good of a description to not be at least a little true.
Randy Leifeste was the owner and cheerleader of Cockaroo, the amorous rooster with an ichthyological fetish. In a 2015 interview with the Houston Chronicle, Leifeste said people would come to see the rooster and end up buying nearby property. As a real estate broker, too, it was a no-lose deal for Leifeste: “This rooster made $252,000 for me,” he said.
The Chronicle story points out that town was originally settled in the 1840s by German immigrants bent on establishing several socialist communities. The socialist part didn’t take. Castell’s sister communities didn’t survive. But Castell is still going. The oldest town in Llano County had a population of 104 in the 2010 Census.
Leifeste actually grew up in Castell before moving away. But he returned in 2000 and opened the general store. He’s co-owner with his son Marc. With the store came a renewed sense of community — and a commitment to keep the community and its visitors entertained.
It was Marc who started the Testicle Festival (“We were just trying to come up with something different,” he told The Picayune recently.)
But that’s only one of many events. There’s also a bike race, music, various cook-offs and weekly Hill Country shenanigans.
I’ve learned all this tonight. And now, so have you. If we had learned it a week ago, we’d be Testicle Festival veterans together.
Next year. Let’s do it.
It’ll be a ball.