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Buy Local, Eat Southern for Penn State-Alabama Football

by on August 24, 2011 7:51 AM

My favorite part of a Penn State football game is the tailgating food. To be honest, I’ve never paid close attention to the action on the field.

Two exceptions: the nine months I spent as managing editor of this website and the ’94 football season.

The latter period corresponds to my senior year at Penn State, when JoePa’s undefeated team gave me a great excuse to take my first trip to California. It was impossible not to pay attention to this team.

I also had a small crush on Ki-Jana Carter, which was completely endorsed by my then-boyfriend and current husband. (My husband was covering the football team for the Collegian back then, and somehow convinced Ki-Jana to sign a picture we snagged from the photo department. He spelled my name wrong, but he also complimented my leather jacket, so I really couldn’t complain.)

At any rate, once Ki-Jana and I left Penn State, I stopped following the team. I still traveled to Penn State once or twice a year for a game and marveled that the Blue Band could still give me chills, but I never cared enough about sports to know who was playing quarterback or where we placed in the polls. I came to see friends, watch JoePa run out on the field, and gaze at Mount Nittany, wondering if my husband would ever really convince me to move back.

When he did, football became an inevitable part of our social lives. While I love to hit the tailgates and sample the food, I rarely attend a game.

This year, however, is different.

My husband shares his season tickets with friends and family members, but he’s taking me to Penn State vs. Alabama. I’m a sucker for a human-interest story, and the resilience shown by the Crimson Tide community in the face of tremendous loss and destruction is a truly compelling narrative. When a friend posted a Sports Illustrated story entitled, "Terror, Tragedy And Hope In Tuscaloosa,"  I clicked and couldn’t stop reading. I’ve since shared the story with friends and family.

The Penn State fans who traveled to Alabama last year raved about how well they were treated. I only hope the Alabama athletes and fans who visit Happy Valley will say the same thing about us.

“It's now our turn,” said Greg Myford, Penn State’s associate athletic director. “Great food, great respect and great football should be what we want to serve up for all Tide fans on their game day visit to Beaver Stadium."

As for the food, which in my opinion is the most effective vehicle for making someone feel at home, the obvious choice for a Penn State-Alabama tailgate is barbeque.

For ideas, I consulted Pete Herncane, the chef at Otto’s, which smokes several menu items, including its smoked chicken thigh appetizer, smoked brisket cheese steak, smoked turkey for its turkey wedge, pork butt for the bbq pork sandwich, and its house-made smoked pancetta.

“We’ll be doing some Southern-inspired specials to accommodate our guests from out of town,” said Herncane, the former chef at the Allen Street Grill and Corner Room.

Herncane suggests a tailgating menu of pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans and a cucumber salad. Since you probably don’t have a smoker, you can cook your pork butt in the oven and finish in a crockpot.

For ingredients, check the “fresh food finder” at BuyFreshBuyLocal, which lists the farms and other local food providers in the State College area. My suggestion for the pork: The Penn State Meats Laboratory.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you ran into a few Alabama fans in line.

Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at or contact her at [email protected]
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