CHAUTAUQUA - Culinary experiences are a special treat during the second annual Chautauqua in June learning festival.
Experiences offered range from a two-hour workshop learning how seasonings affect the taste of wine to a two day wine appreciation boot camp covering the process of planting vines through bottling and labeling wine. Local farmers, winemakers, brew masters, and chefs will roll out the welcome mat to teach participants about local foods, wines, brews and the Farm to Table movement in Chautauqua County.
At the historic Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua Institution, Executive Chef Ross Warhol is bringing awareness to the Farm to Table movement and providing enjoyable yet educational culinary experiences through a series of dinners and workshops. During Chautauqua in June, Chef Warhol and other Culinary Institute of America trained chefs will bring students through the Farm to Table culinary process, literally from gathering ingredients at local farms to sitting down to a formal five course meal in the hotel's parlor. The two-day experience includes a farm sourcing and foraging tour with lunch, a hands-on culinary class with dinner and the Farm to Table Dinner event.
Located in southwestern New York State, Chautauqua County is a diverse agricultural county, whose agricultural profile consists primarily of dairy farms and Concord grape vineyards, followed by the production of wine grapes, meat from livestock operations, tree fruits and vegetables. Chautauqua County has the greatest number of farms in New York State, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture. Virginia Carlberg at Cornell Cooperative Extension explains that the average size of a farm in Chautauqua County is only 142 acres, which means that the county is home to many small family farms, many of which sell their agricultural products directly to the community through farm stands and farmers markets.
These farms and their products are an important part of the culinary workshops during Chautauqua in June. More than 85 farm markets in the region annually offer locally grown produce, cheeses, meat, and maple products and the opportunity to create sumptuous meals that are sourced in western New York. Local chefs and markets have utilized this growing region to create culinary specialties like great grape syrups and vinaigrettes and at least one local grape producer is producing oil from its grapes. In addition to the Farm to Table experiences at the Athenaeum Hotel, Green Heron Growers in Sherman will offer a half-day workshop focusing on how to grow mushrooms, especially Shiitake mushrooms, during Fun with Fungus. Participants will take their own mushroom log home and enjoy a Shiitake pizza lunch.
Along Lake Erie, a narrow escarpment uniquely suited to growing grapes has sustained the grape and wine industry for nearly two centuries, making this the world's oldest and largest Concord grape growing region and the largest grape growing region in the United States outside of California. Today, 23 wineries offer tours and tastings from Silver Creek, NY to Northeast, PA and several will provide special learning experiences during the June festival.
21 Brix Winery, the newest stop in Lake Erie's wine country, will offer two workshops during Chautauqua in June. Learn how a Riesling changes when you eat something salty, or sweet, during Wine & Seasonings Tasting. Participants will take home their own dry, red wine blend creation with Create Your Own Wine Blend. Merritt Estate Winery, one of the region's oldest wineries, will offer a Wine Tasting Primer: Starting at the Top with owners William and Jason Merritt who have more than 30 years of experience in the industry.
Johnson Estate Winery, Liberty Vineyards, and Cabana Sam's Sunset Bay Gill will each offer wine pairing dinners in addition to other workshops such as Sunday Morning Vineyard Walks; How to Make Pesto; a Grape Growing, Wine Making & Appreciation Boot Camp; and a "Cocktails" Bartending Class. This is the second year of offering workshops for all three organizations. Of the 2011 wine pairing dinner, Jennifer Johnson of Johnson Estate Winery in Westfield exclaimed, "That is the part that made our events so enjoyable - the willingness of people, who were essentially strangers, to enjoy the moment and to embrace the opportunity to share a special meal, planned and prepared by the winemaker and chef, in a very relaxed way."
Not to be outdone by the wineries, Southern Tier Brewing Company and Ellicottville Brewing Company in Fredonia will offer beer tasting and brewing experiences. Be a Brewer for a Day during a very hands-on experience at Southern Tier's brewing facilities in Lakewood. The local brewery is offering a second workshop option after the first date sold out in mid-April. EBC's brewer, Dan Minner, will focus more on the history of brewing, different beer styles and how they pair with food during a Beer Pairing Dinner on June 7th.
While not a local food, teas tastings have also become popular in Chautauqua County. Learn the nuances and culture of tea tasting at Lana's the Little House or partake in an afternoon tea at the Cherry Creek Inn. Afternoon tea tastings and luncheons will continue throughout the summer on Saturday afternoons on the porch of the Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua Institution.
Starting this month, farmers markets in Westfield, Fredonia, Sherman and Jamestown will begin their weekly schedules, making regionally grown foods available in central locations. Voted in the top 10 Farmers Markets in the country in 2009 by American Farmland Trust, the Westfield Farmers Market is a New York Producers certified market, meaning that meats, produce and goods offered are regionally grown or made and fresh from the farm. Items for sale include Amish woven baskets, woodcraft, handmade soaps, jams, jellies and other canned items, and local wineries are showcased each week. Summer festivals featuring locally grown foods include Pesto Festo at Barlow's Mill in Fredonia, a culinary event that celebrates the Italian heritage of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt.
Chautauqua in June is a three week learning festival, May 25 through June 17 with classes and workshops held in both indoor and outdoor classrooms across Chautauqua County, a destination for leisure learning, summer camps and workshops. Participants can register for workshops online or request a program guide at www.tourchautauqua.com. Note, that creative workshops that require more individualized instruction are limited in size, and registrations are available on a first come, first serve basis.
For more information and a schedule of vacation learning events during Chautauqua in June as well as throughout the year, call 1-866-908-4569 or visit the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau website at www.tourchautauqua.com.