SKOWHEGAN — Right up there with the New Jersey diner that hosted Tony Soprano’s feared last supper, Elvis Presley’s birthplace and the iconic “Rocky” statue published on CNN’s list of the top 15 quirky U.S. spots to visit in 2015, is Skowhegan, Maine, and its annual bread conference.

No kidding.

SkowVegas is on the map.

“If you love good bread — the hand-baked variety, not the store-bought stuff — you’ll flip for the three-day Kneading Conference and Artisan Bread Fair in the picturesque town of Skowhegan on the Kennebec River,” CNN staffers write in the network’s look ahead for cool places to go in the coming year.

Also on the list is a spot in Austin, Texas, where you can play bingo with a chicken on a piece of plywood with numbered boxes. Buy a number and hope that the chicken poops on your square, according to the list, published on-line Saturday.

There also is the world’s largest truck stop in Walcott, Iowa, and a tour of the Tabasco hot sauce factory’s original site on Avery Island, Louisiana, where it has been run by the same family since 1868. The annual bull Testicle Festival in Clinton, a mountain town near Missoula, Montana, is on the list along with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, which is marking its 75th year in 2015.

Kneading Conference founder Amber Lambke, owner of the Somerset Grist Mill in the converted 1895 county jail, said CNN staffers began contacting her for photos last week.

CNN spokeswoman Emily Kuhn said in an email that network researchers “sorted through hundreds of possible places and events across the country” and winnowed the results of their research to the 15 locations chosen. CNN producer contacted the state’s tourism office for information which provided additional information, according to Carolann Ouellette, director of the Office of Tourism and the Maine Film Office.

“Working with out-of-state travel and lifestyle media, is a key part of our marketing efforts,” Ouellette said in a statement.

“I was really pleased with the CNN piece,” Lambke said Monday. “It highlights the uniqueness of our event in that there are not other bread fairs around the country. I think it’s fun.”

The CNN list touts such “bread-geek topics” at the annual event as one of the country’s quirkier, off-the-beaten-tourist-trail attractions.

“They told me what their intentions were, and they thought this was really a unique event and they wanted to highlight it as one of the things that should be on people’s radar in 2015,” Lambke said.

The Kneading Conference, held at the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds, was launched in 2007, a collaboration of Lambke, area bakers, chefs, community volunteers and Maine Wood Heat of Skowhegan, makers of wood-fired ovens.

“We became aware that as they were building bake ovens for bakers, there was increasing interest in locally grown grains and bread baking with local grains,” said Lambke, who also is chairman of the Maine Grain Alliance. “The goal of the first Kneading Conference was to explore whether Maine could revive its dormant grain economy. It grew in popularity and became an annual event.”

The conference is sponsored by the Maine Grain Alliance and includes kitchen workshops, guest speakers on grain farming and oven building, baking demonstrations and panel discussions that focus on handcrafted bread, wood-fired oven cooking, types of flour and grains and the role of grain in the Maine economy.

Lambke said a few years into the conference local people began inquiring about the activities and wanted to taste for themselves what was going on. That was the beginning of the Artisan Bread Fair, held on the Saturday of the three-day event. Last year the bread fair drew about 3,000 people to sample bread and pastries, as well as pizza baked in a wood-fired oven. Books and equipment for baking at home also are available, and professional bakers are on hand to answer questions. The fair also features live music, exhibits of antique baking tools and kitchen linens, demonstrations and Maine-made food.

The first bread fair was in 2010, a year after Lambke and her business partner purchased the former county jail.

“It’s an all day celebration of bread and local food with live music, bread to buy and baking wares, and highlights what’s happening in the region,” Lambke said.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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