Surprising Suburb: Vidalia & The Golden Onion Competition

Onions abound throughout the festival and the competition.

Onions abound throughout the festival and the competition.

Ten chefs compete for the Golden Onion trophy Sunday afternoon, April 27 preparing the sweetest of all onions right in the land where they grow – Vidalia, Georgia.

Sounds like a solid reason for a culinary holiday that happens in the midst of a 37-year-old festival. And it’s free.

Miss the 2014 version and mail order Vidalia onions to satisfy you until next April. This professional chef cooking competition is an annual affair.

Expect more than sweet and savory aromas; the Golden Onion lets visitors up close to the chefs: watching, learning, talking, tasting.

Golden Onion trophy stays with chef one year until the next competition.

Golden Onion trophy stays with chef one year until the next competition.

Chef competitors each prepare eight plates — five presented to judges, one for photography, two plates to raffle. Recipe books provide competition entries for $10.00

Why the excitement? This is the onion with a protective federal market order and a museum. Only onion I ever knew about with a pledge!

When you see the letters VO inside a little onion sketch on a menu, it means the restaurant owner pledged never declare it a Vidalia if not so.

Intrigue in growing these sweet treasures is nothing new. Guess that’s why Bob Stafford is known in Vidalia as the “onion high sheriff.”

He keeps everybody honest, enforcing the federal order naming 13 full counties and parts of seven as the only true Vidalia sources. Plus, he’s a judge in the cooking competition.

Stafford’s office is in the Onion Museum where the story of sandy soils explains the special sweetness.

I do believe I’d like to meet the 100 or so farmers in these counties growing real-deal certified Vidalia onions. Family farming does mean something in America.

Onions come in six sizes, from peewee to colossal.

Onions come in six sizes, from peewee to colossal.

Seems it’s sulfur that makes an onion pungent, maybe even hot, but South Georgia sandy soil lets the sulfur leach and the onions grow sweet.

Vidalia’s are softer than western onions, and every one is hand planted and hand picked.

Mostly they ship fresh but 10,000 onions can be stored in tightly sealed rooms of nitrogen and carbon dioxide—only three percent oxygen at temperature of 35 degrees.

In addition to visiting the Onion Museum, I recommend talking to the Convention and Visitor Bureau before you go to see about a tour, or at least some conversations with the onion experts.

Christine 12. 2007 4Christine Tibbetts claimed Georgia as her home state in 1972.  She covers Georgia destinations, and the world, always offering prompts for exceptional experiences and opportunities to muse. Tibbetts earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the prestigious School of Journalism at the University of Missouri and is the recipient of numerous gold, silver and merit awards from North American Travel Journalists Association writing competitions. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.