The Inside Scoop

Competitive ice-cream-eating champs will try for a “three-peat”

Judah (left) and Oliver (right) Balson, Ice Cream Eating Contest winners.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Showing up on a Tuesday to the North Carolina Mountain State Fair two years ago turned out to be a cool decision for the Balson family. 

Confident in his love for ice cream and his ability to avoid the ultimate brain freeze, Oliver Balson, husband to Celestiel and father to Zoe and Judah, decided to participate in the adult category of the fair’s annual Ice Cream Eating Competition. His confidence paid off the moment he slammed down his empty pint of Mayfield’s vanilla, looking around to notice he had just beaten the whole lineup of other competitors. 

One year later (also on a Tuesday), the Balson family ventured back to the fair to witness Oliver’s second attempt at snagging a sweet trophy. This time, though, his 12-year-old son Judah decided to step up to the plate — or, in this case, the cup — to compete in the 8-12 age group. As Celestiel and Zoe stood by patiently waiting, though admittedly rather grossed out by the ice cream on everyone’s faces — “it was dripping down their arms,” Celestiel says with a cringe — Oliver and Judah pulled through for the Balson family and won the contest in both age categories. 

Bold Life met the Balsons at their favorite local ice-cream shop, The Hop, whose owners use their bacon in special-edition flavors. (The Balsons run a wholesale-meat business in Asheville, RJ Balson & Son USA, an extension of the family’s heritage UK operation — the oldest butcher shop in Europe, est. 1515.)

Oliver, what’s your secret to eating ice cream so fast without getting a brain freeze?

What’s brain freeze? Just kidding. The biggest challenge really isn’t the brain freeze, it’s breaking apart the ice cream with the small wooden spoon they give you. One guy showed up with a metal spoon and they made him get rid of it.

Can you provide any tips to others interested in competitive ice-cream eating?

Oliver: People should pace themselves — yeah, they should definitely pace themselves.

Judah: They should eat a Chinese buffet before competing.

These sound like not-so-helpful tips.

Oliver: Well, we are hoping for a three-peat at this year’s fair. We can’t give away our secrets!

Celestiel: They’re both extremely competitive people and very determined. Like father, like son.

Judah and Oliver, what were your experiences like?

Judah: At first, I didn’t know if I would win, but once I started eating, no one else looked like they were moving as fast as me. I was the oldest in the group last year [ages 8-12], but this year I am older and going to compete with the teenagers [ages 13-17].

Oliver: Last year, I had a guy from Greenville, SC, come up to me saying he wanted to come compete against me the next year. He was totally serious — no smiles.

Are you going to practice for this year’s competition?

Oliver: We will rise to the occasion and wing it. It’s dangerous to practice for this kind of contest … you could balloon up pretty quick.

Judah: I won’t practice, but this year is going to be extra challenging since I will be the youngest in my group. We also have a few friends who are threatening to compete against us.

Oliver, do you engage in any other competitive eating?

I’m friends with the guy who owns the Thirsty Monk in downtown Asheville, so we got some people together and had a competition with some of my hotdogs I sold for a party there. I [ate] three, but this other guy had like 12. That competition was much more difficult. 

The North Carolina Mountain State Fair runs Friday, Sept. 6 through Sunday, Sept. 15 at the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center (1301 Fanning Bridge Road, Fletcher). The Ice Cream Eating Contest will be held Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6:30pm in the Davis Event Center. Participants must register by 6pm the day of the competition. Space is limited. The winner is the first person to eat the selected amount of ice cream: a cup for ages 5-7, two cups for ages 8-12, three cups for ages 13-17, and a pint for adults and celebrity guests (to be revealed at the contest). Trophies will be given to first-place winners, and ribbons through fourth place. For more information, visit

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