Photo: Foxhoven, Big Beers Festival
The launch of 2011 promises food festivals that will satisfy your chocolate cravings, take you to the heart of southern cooking, and expand the meaning of what a Dutch oven can do (and that's just the beginning). If these food gatherings are a sign of things to come, the year in edibles is off to a great start.
Blackberry Farm: Taste of the South, Walland, Tenn., Jan. 6-8: The Southern Foodways Alliance has helped bring the food culture of the South way above and beyond the boundaries of Dixie. Yes, there's soul food. But there's also the oral history of Vietnamese fisherman in Biloxi. Taste of the South, held in concert with the spectacular Blackberry Farm, will shine the spotlight on the artisans, chefs and farmers who have contributed to the richness of the South and its culture of comestibles, at a Gala Dinner and silent auction.
Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywine Festival, Vail, Colo., Jan. 6-8: Aside from a tasting event, where a wide variety of international styles will be available for sampling, this 11th annual event will host seminars, such as the Experimental and Featured Brewmasters' sessions, and a beer-pairing dinner. Participants will also have the opportunity to show off their skills with hops and malt in the homebrewing competition. We'll drink to that.
Mesquite Open Dutch Oven Cook-Off, Mesquite, Nev., Jan. 7-8: Fill up on hearty fare made in a cook's tool you may have neglected: the Dutch oven. With a total of five grand in prizes and a ticket to the International Dutch Oven Society's World Championship Cook-Off on the line, this meet-up (held at the Casa Blanca Resort and Spa) attracts cooks who can whip up food that's far from ordinary.
Lafayette Quaker Oatmeal Festival, Lafayette, Colo., Jan. 8: This cereal may be humble and good for you, but it's also what makes oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Start your day at this fest with an oatmeal breakfast, then take a turn in the 5K run, a health fair, health screenings and other health-related doings. There's a baking contest, too (last year's grand prize was awarded for a lemon-glazed oatmeal cookie).
Florida Keys Seafood Festival, Key West, Fla., Jan. 15: This sixth-annual, family-friendly celebration of commercial fishermen and their catches combines a taste of the sea with a bit of fundraising. On the featured edibles side are Key West pink shrimp, conch chowder and golden crab. Money is also raised to fund scholarships for college-bound children of local fishermen.
International Chocolate Festival with Coffee and Tea, Coral Gables, Fla., Jan. 21-23: Head down to yet another fest in the Sunshine State, this the fifth-annual fête at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, where you learn about chocolate making, tour the Fairchild Rainforest where cacao trees grow, catch cooking demos by local chefs and, of course, eat your chocolate-loving heart out.
Montana Winter Festival, Lewistown, Mont., Jan. 27-30: Folks in Big Sky Country won't let the dead of winter keep them from having a good time. For this celebration, local farmers take center stage with seminars, livestock shows, farm-equipment exhibits and cook-offs featuring Dutch ovens, chili and cinnamon rolls. Hungry yet?