Sweet Treat: 25th Mountain Mandarin Festival is November 16-18

MANDARINS HAVE BEEN GROWN IN THE FOOTHILLS surrounding Newcastle since the late 1800s. The first commercial Mandarin endeavors were started in the 1950s by Frank Aguilar, Ed Pilz and Harold Struble, and there are now over 80 growers in Placer County.

When organizers in the bucolic foothills town of Newcastle held their first Mountain Mandarin Festival 25 years ago, they never imagined it would grow to a three-day event that now attracts 30,000-35,000 people from throughout the West.

The festival — featuring the foothills’ signature fruit — quickly outgrew the tiny town square and is now held at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in neighboring Auburn.

Visitors to the Mountain Mandarin Festival on November 16-18 are greeted with an abundance of the tasty citrus, from fresh fruit samples to products made with the locally grown Mandarins.

Jams and jellies, infused olive oils and balsamic vinegars, chocolate, barbecue sauces, and body care products all are available for purchase. Visitors discover food vendors who offer everything from Mandarin pizza to Mandarin-glazed wings, Mandarin donuts and Mandarin pulled pork, just to name a few.

The annual event — featuring over 250 vendors in five buildings — has expanded to include a cooking stage with chef demonstrations and a popular recipe contest. Vendors offer Mandarin products, gifts, holiday items, home décor, jewelry and handcrafts.

The atmosphere is lively, with music, magic, dance, street entertainers, children’s activities and a free train ride around the grounds.

An ice skating rink is a new attraction this year, and a Run for the Mandarins 5K Fun Run will depart from the Festival on Sunday morning. But for many attendees, meeting all the local growers and tasting their fresh Mandarins is the highlight of the Festival.

The original Newcastle Mandarin Festival was started by Joanne Neft on behalf of the Newcastle Area Business Association. The group wanted to highlight a unique, locally grown, agricultural product with a celebration that would contribute to the local economy.

Proceeds continue to benefit Newcastle Area Business Association and other community projects. The Festival has now raised more than $500,000 for the community, including awarding five scholarships each year.

(Photo: Wayde Carroll)

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