At first glance, heaping helpings of beef, rutabagas, potatoes, and onions tucked inside a doughy crust and baked to perfection may not look like much to the untrained eye.
To Upper Peninsula residents – Yoopers for short – and Michiganders young and old, pasties are culinary gold, and eating one is a rite of passage in the Mitten State.
Dozens of locations in Michigan serve these delicacies, and they are just one of many reasons why Yoopers and visitors alike love spending time in the Upper Peninsula.
The UP’s love for the pasty will be on full display this Saturday, during the first-ever Pasty Fest Olympics in Calumet. Right in the heart of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, competitors and visitors alike will delight in competing in and watching one-of-a-kind events that may serve as the foundation for future pasty festivals.
Whether you’ve never had a pasty or you have a favorite place (or several) for pasties in the Upper Peninsula, this is a first-of-its-kind festival you’ll want to see to believe.
The Pasty – The Cultural Cuisine of the Upper Peninsula
Way up in Michigan’s UP, it’s all about the pasty, which traces its roots back to England and Cornish miners who coveted the pasty for its tastiness and easy portability in their lunch pails.
It came to the UP thanks to the many different groups who settled in Copper Country and worked in the copper mines, again taking the pasties down into the mines with them to eat.
At its core, the pasty is a filling of beef, rutabagas, potatoes, and onions wrapped up and baked to perfection in a flaky dough crust. Think of it as a UP version of the pot pie.
Across the Upper Peninsula, hungry residents and visitors can find this staple in dozens of shops, stretching from Munising to St. Ignace to Calumet to Ontanagon and everywhere in between.
Pasty purists can find the traditional pasty (beef, potatoes, onions, and rutabagas) at just about any pasty shop. But many UP pasty spots have upped the ante over the years, offering chicken pasties, gluten-free pasties, pizza-flavored pasties, dessert pasties, and so much more.
What are the Pasty Fest Olympics?
The Pasty Fest Olympics is a first-of-its-kind event designed to show love for the pasty and challenge competitors in feats of skill, strength, and speed.
This year’s inaugural event will take place from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 19th, 2023.
Competitors and spectators alike will enjoy a multitude of events, including the Pasty Pull, the Pasty Relay Race, and the Pasty Fest Art Prize.
A True Test of Strength
Tests of strength such as weight lifting and truck pulling are awe-inspiring, but spectators will truly be in awe as they watch this weekend’s Pasty Pull.
The strongest individuals in Copper Country are being called upon to harness the mighty and awesome power of pasties to pull a truck down Oak Street in Calumet.
Contestants will be strapped to a truck (make and model TBD) with tow straps and have five minutes to complete the truck pull down a 100-foot track.
A One-of-a-Kind Relay Race
Another highlight of the Pasty Olympics will be the Pasty Relay in downtown Calumet, which will see teams vying for pasty glory by making giant pasties in stages.
The competition is equal parts race and pasty making. It’s sure to be messy and fast-paced, but most of all, it’s going to be fun!
The race is a four-stage competition in which teams of four will compete to make the ultimate gigantic pasty. The first stage will see competitors get their hands dirty as they make a pasty crust. The second stage involves rolling out the dough flat with foam pool noodles and filling it with pasty ingredients.
From there, the next competitors will get their fingers moving fast as they work to perfect the pinch and crimp. The final stage involves egg-washing the creations with a mop and racing them to the top of Pasty Mountain for baking.
Prizes will be awarded during the relay to the team who completes all stages correctly in the shortest amount of time. There will also be prizes for the best team costumes and the most appetizing pasties.
A Chance to Show Off Artistic Skill
Visit Keweenaw is also sponsoring the first Pasty Art Prize Competition where Upper Peninsula artists are encouraged to submit pasty-themed artwork for display. The pieces will be displayed in downtown Calumet businesses, allowing passersby to see them and get into the Olympic spirit. The entries can also be viewed through a virtual gallery.
UP Pasty Olympic attendees are strongly encouraged to walk through the historic streets of downtown Calumet and vote for their favorite pieces.
The top three winners will be announced on Saturday, and cash prizes will be awarded.
Other Awesome Pasty Fest Events
The three above-mentioned Olympic events are sure to be crowd-pleasers, but Calumet’s Pasty Fest has many more events in store this weekend.
Other events on the Pasty Fest schedule include:
- Pasties on sale from at least six local vendors
- A pasty eating competition, where competitors will see who can eat the most pasties in just five minutes.
- A pasty baking competition, where different pasty vendors will submit 100 entries, and visitors can purchase a judges kit for $20 to help pick the winner.
- A Pasty Fest auto show
- Live music
- A flea market
- Calumet Farmer’s Market
- Kids’ activities including a bubble machine and carnival games
- A horseshoe tournament at Agassiz Park
- Pasty History at Keweenaw National Historical Park
Visit an Upper Peninsula Pasty Shop
No matter where you go in the Upper Peninsula, you don’t have to go far to find a tasty pasty.
Cross the Mackinac Bridge (or head south if you’re already in the UP) and head to St. Ignace. Here you’ll find Lehto’s Pasties, considered by many to be one of the premier pasty spots in the entire UP.
In the central UP, Lawry’s Pasty Shop promises delicious pasties, including the original and vegetarian options. All it takes is one bite for customers of all ages to be hooked.
Along Lake Superior’s southern shores, Muldoons in downtown Munising is one spot hungry customers won’t want to miss. Muldoon’s main location is on the way into town and has an awning and picnic tables that allow for a fun outdoor eating experience.
The pasty menu includes traditional, veggie, and chicken options, but those with room for dessert can also get an apple pie pasty.
There are even some great spots in the Lower Peninsula that offer pasties — though pasty purists may say the Upper Peninsula is the only spot to get a true taste of their goodness.
How to Properly Eat a Pasty
There’s no debating that pasties are delicious. But what can make for serious debate among Michiganders is the proper filling for a pasty and the proper way to eat it.
Traditionalists swear by the “old-fashioned” typical pasty: Beef, onions, rutabagas, and potatoes. Others like having options, including chicken pasties, veggie pasties, venison pasties, and dessert pasties.
When you get your pasty, in many spots, it’s tradition to eat it with a hearty side of ketchup. Still, others prefer their pasties with a side of gravy.
And that’s to say nothing of the eating of the pasty itself. Because it was designed to be portable, hungry customers on the go prefer to eat them as a handheld sort of sandwich. Those who prefer a sit-down meal eat their pasties with a knife and fork (and may even add a sprinkle of salt and pepper too).
Buy Yourself a Pasty and Go Watch the Pasty Fest Olympics
No matter how you enjoy your pasty, it’s best to enjoy it however you like it best. Whether pasties are a staple of your diet or they’re a rare treat during visits to Michigan or to the UP, don’t let “ground rules” take away from your enjoyment of this UP delicacy.
If you’ve never been to the Upper Peninsula, the first-ever Pasty Fest Olympics are the perfect time to go. There will be fun for attendees of all ages to enjoy, and you’ll see for yourself how the humble pasty has become such an important part of UP culture.