International wings, beverages, blue cheese and yes, even ranch, will be on hand this weekend for the National Buffalo Wing Festival.
Organizers held a sneak preview event Thursday at the Buffalo Niagara Visitor Center, as London-based wing maker The Orange Buffalo provided free samples to community members.
The U.K. wings are a taste of the international flair that will be at the 18th annual festival Saturday and Sunday at Sahlen Field, which is also set to include wings from Mexico restaurant “Wing’s Army” and U.S. Virgin Islands restaurant “Buddha Sushi.”
“Over the last few years, chicken wings have gone not just national, but global,” festival founder and self-proclaimed “Wing King” Drew Cerza told WBFO Thursday at the free wing event.
More than 985,000 people have attended the festival over the last 17 years, including those from all 50 states and more than 34 countries, according to the festival’s website. Cerza said that’s been good for the local economy and Buffalo’s international profile.
“We work very closely with Visit Buffalo Niagara, the local tourism group,” he added. “They help market Buffalo and the wing fest to all the out-of-town writers and journalists. They write the stories, which spreads the word.”
Cerza also said the inclusion of national and international wings give Buffalo wing connoisseurs a reason to attend.
“These are wings you can’t get locally. It’s kind of special,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-year opportunity to get special wings from across the country all in your hometown.”
Of course, one festival effort to appease out-of-town guests has not gone over well with Buffalonians: the first-ever inclusion of ranch dressing.
Blue cheese-crazed Buffalonians have been quick to criticize the inclusion on social media, calling dipping wings in ranch “blasphemy” and a “culinary atrocity.”
Cerza admitted he’s been feeling the heat since he made the announcement last week, adding critics have made him out to be a Jon Bon Jovi-like figure, the famed pop singer who led an unsuccessful bid to buy the Buffalo Bills and move the team to Toronto in 2014.
Cerza noted he’s as big a blue cheese fan as anyone — he helped start National Blue Cheese Day last year and used blue cheese when defeating the Food Network’s Bobby Flay in a wing-eating contest 12 years ago.
A 2017 Syracuse.com poll found 85% of respondents preferred blue cheese over ranch with their wings, but a 2013 National Chicken Council survey found 57% of their respondents preferred ranch.
“All the local great wing joints here in Buffalo offer ranch dressing to all the out-of-town guests so I figured why shouldn’t I do that, too?” he said. “We’re a blue nation, it’s all about the blue, but, hey, condiments, you got your choice now.”
The festival has partnered with Hidden Valley Ranch, which has committed to matching the festival’s donation to the Food Bank of WNY, now known as FeedMore WNY.
The question of ranch vs. blue cheese conflicted some attendees at Thursday’s special preview event.
When Rochester native Jaret Jenkins was asked which condiment he prefers, his fiancée Molly Fischer shouted for him to choose blue cheese.
“That’s a question that I struggle with,” Jenkins said thoughtfully before answering, “Because I’m disciplined and I know my (soon-to-be) wife loves blue cheese, I would say blue cheese.”