An American Tale of Food and Drink Festivals
Your go-to guide to the country’s best culinary celebrations
Want to eat around the world in a day? Go from India to Cuba by foot? Tantalize your taste buds with an obscene amount of cheese? Whether you’re a fool for pairing food with wine or just in the mood to grub down with taste tests, a food fest is your best bet to try a little bit of everything.
Been There. Eaten That.
Food festivals have a history of bringing people together. What began as a way to display and share a farmer’s bounty has evolved into a worldwide celebration of all things edible.
Take a look back at Lammas Day. Predating Christianity, Lammas Day was the welcoming of the harvest. This was more than a good time to make bread. It was the perfect time to break it. After a full month of merriment, a full feast would be prepared—likely to be followed by a lot of carb-loaded naps.
Since then, food festivals have grown to give attendees a taste of edible innovation, storied traditions and the heart of every culture—food. Guests get to do more than sample. We experience food, wine, beer, culture, traditions and each other. Best part is, we don’t have to traverse the globe to do it. In fact, you’re probably a short flight or a tankful away from at least one delectable festival.
Here are some noteworthy palate parties you don’t want to miss.
New York State of Mind
NYC Wine & Food
As if you didn’t already know. The New York City Wine & Food Festival is home to some of the most incredible displays of culinary talent this side of…everything. Television host Giada De Laurentiis calls it “a foodie’s heaven.”
Beyond running into your favorite food channel personalities, NYCWFF hosts more than 80 events with over 47,000 experts and aficionados each year. Plainly put, it brings you the best in world-class cuisine.
If you want the full experience, attend a dinner event or the grand tasting—because what better way to make your meal more delicious than with a delightful wine pairing? Just ask Advanced Sommelier Melissa Mcavoy, beverage manager at Swirlery Wine Bar in Orlando, Florida. “Wine elevates a meal by refreshing our palates,” she says. “It adds to the flavors. And wine with friends and family just makes for an even better meal.”
Finger Lakes Wine Fest
Bison and BBQ and brisket, oh my! Fancy some serious farm-to-table foodie love? The Finger Lakes Wine Fest, presented by Yancey’s Fancy New York’s Artisan Cheese®, features a wide variety of delectable dishes. Dig into turkey legs, steak and cheese sandwiches, and 100 percent grass-fed burgers. A carnivore’s paradise, this lakeside festival is filled with excitement that’s second to none in New York state’s wine country—the Finger Lakes.
But what’s a good pulled pork sandwich if it’s not accompanied by a beautiful, bold red from one of America’s finest vineyards? You won’t have to wonder at the Finger Lakes Wine Fest! Fun fact about this festival: All featured wines hail from the great state of New York, making this an opportunity to expand your palate while exploring local wines.
If you still aren’t sold, they have glamping.
Taste of Chicago
You can find it by “The Bean,” aka Cloud Gate. Taste of Chicago, one of the nation’s largest outdoor food festivals, occurs every summer in Grant Park. Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls it “a summertime staple” in the Windy City.
You’ll definitely find your fair share of Chicago-style dogs and pizza at this lakeside extravaganza. But you’ll also run into a slew of unexpected appetite pleasers—like tastes from Belize, Vietnam and India.
Food-fest enthusiast (and self-proclaimed master of his own kitchen) Mat Hawes is a huge fan. “We all live in our little bubbles,” he says. “These festivals are a great way to enrich our own lives and experience new things. I love the idea of gathering different people from different cultures together in one spot to enjoy the one thing we all love. Food!”
Since 1980, Taste of Chicago has played host to millions of foodies ready to nosh. And they all got in for free!
All About Wisconsin
Lactose intolerant folks need not apply. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Even the cheese state is sympathetic to those who aren’t into curds. If that rings true for you, check out the Madison Vegan Fest. There’s no entry fee, and all are welcome to have their fill of delicious vegan food. Not only are you sure to find your new favorite plant-based dish, but you’ll also learn a thing—or three—you didn’t know about veganism and its wonderful impact on the community.
If you happen to be a cheesehead, The Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival truly is a cheese lover’s dream come cheddar. Or Gouda. Or Brie. Whatever your Havarti-loving heart desires can be found on a plate, in a sandwich or over a fire. You get the idea. Just head to Little Chute, Wisconsin, come summertime and snack away.
West Coast Style
Head toward the Pacific and you’ll find a whole new world of food and wine festivals.
There’s the ever-popular LA Food Fest, where the glitz and glamour of Hollywood gourmet is bound to be impressive.
But maybe you’re in the mood for something different. In that case, go a little further north and you’ll discover a change of scenery—and some very tasty uncharted territory.
Bounty of Yamhill County
Wine lovers worldwide already rejoice over Oregonian vines. Climate, elevation and a passion for winemaking make Willamette Valley vineyards a great alternative to your French favorites.
The Bounty of Yamhill County is a beautiful exploration of everything Oregon has to offer. Over the course of 3 days, attendees are invited to uncork and uncover what makes this part of the Pacific Northwest so special. You’ll find farms, orchards, ranches and creameries featuring culinary adventures unique to the region. And they’re all paired perfectly with grapes grown just down the road.
Key Lime Festival
Alright, sweet tooth. Here’s your shot. The Key Lime Festival in Key West, Florida, is the world’s largest celebration of those teeny, tiny limes you simply love in your pie.
But the island excitement doesn’t stop at pie. More adventurous types will get a kick out of the Key Lime Scavenger Hunt. If that’s not your style, just hop on the Sip & Stroll to sample the island’s most lip-smacking key lime margaritas and martinis.
Epcot® International Food & Wine Festival
In a land where everything is magic, who better to bring you the most magical food and drinks from around the globe than Disney®?
The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival is by far a major contender in the food fest space. With over 25 nations to taste, you better bring a big appetite and some comfy shoes and enjoy the ride.
The Canadian pavilion boasts some of the best ice wine south of their border, and spicy Ethiopian stew paired with a Jam Jar Sweet Shiraz will take your tongue to another continent. Someone say tacos and tequila? Head over to Mexico where you can sit under the starry Mexican sky, share a tequila flight and munch on a short-rib tostada.
Longtime Epcot Food & Wine Fest fan Nicole Eldredge never misses a year to eat and drink around the world.
“As a local, you learn to live with a love/hate relationship for all things touristy here,” she says. “But in my opinion, it’s all love for one reason—Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. It’s my annual chance to dive into flavors from around the world and visit countries I might not have otherwise seen. It’s also a great time for friends to unite. I have a standing date with my girlfriends every year where we eat, drink and make amazing memories.”
Beyond the brilliant food and drink available, you can also educate yourself. Featured chefs and sommeliers are always hosting how-to classes and master tastings to teach you tricks of the culinary trade. Or you can sit back and listen to some tunes at Eat to the Beat—a sensational live concert series.
New Orleans Wine & Food Experience
Because when you think of New Orleans—sorry, “Nawlins”—you think of food. Creole creations, étouffée and Cajun everything! The New Orleans Wine & Food Experience brings the South to your mouth, for sure. Just look at the name. They don’t even call themselves a festival.
NOWFE is all about experiences. So, while you may have been to the bayou, have you had your beignets with a side of bowling and bubbly? Handmade sausages with a James Beard Award-winning chef? Maybe spend your day sampling some of the world’s rarest wines and call yourself a connoisseur by sunset.
Aimee Brown, NOWFE’s executive director, will attest that it’s not your average wine seminar. “We’ve created some exciting experiences that explore places within our city that many visitors, and even some locals, may have never seen,” she says.
Here’s some food for thought: If you’re a celebrity buff, don’t be surprised if “BAM!”—you run into renowned chefs like Emeril Lagasse. He recently received the prestigious Ella Brennan Lifetime Achievement in Hospitality Award at the notable NOLA event.
Eat, Drink, Fest
Now you know you don’t have to tour Italy to enjoy a culinary adventure. So what are you waiting for?
Hawes says it best when he professes his love for all things edible. “Food isn’t just something someone cooks because they’re hungry,” he says. “It’s an experience. A culture. History. And it’s delicious!”
Just do everyone a favor when you go. Leave enough for Festivus.
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