We all have our favorite foods. I, for example, love seafood. And pizza. And olives. Oh, and chocolate, carrots, ice cream and nectarines. It all depends on the day, which gives me a lot of choice in planning food-themed road trips.
In fact, no matter what your favorite food or drink, chances are you can map out a road trip to somewhere that food is grown, caught, made or transformed -- and, of course, offered for tasting.
Here are 5 food-themed road trips to consider. All are places I’ve been to or longed to see ever since I heard about their culinary offerings.
One September day in 1954, a hotelier was mulling how to lure guests in the waning fall tourist season. His chef suggested serving oysters, which were coming into season. Now the festival, slated for Sept. 23-25, 2011, draws more than 10,000 people, and includes an oyster-shucking competition, live music, gala ball and numerous pints of Ireland’s favorite libation. Galway, on the Green Isle’s west coast, offers picture-book Irish scenes: rolling hills, seaside cliffs, old stone castles and country lanes.
The trick with this one is to get out in the hilly Vermont countryside and burn some calories before touring the ice cream factory. For that, check out the variety of hiking trails at Camel’s Hump State Park, about 5 miles west of Waterbury, VT. Now, the tasty part: The factory tour includes a company history “moo-vie,” views of the production room, an explanation of ice cream making and (yes!) samples. Summertime at the farm/factory includes outdoor activities, such as meeting the B&J cows on the semi-wooded pasture and enjoying ample space for picnicking. The scoop shop is open year-round. For more action (shopping, dining and nightlife), continue west on Interstate 89 to Burlington, VT.
I admit it: I stopped eating meat 10 years ago. But before I did, I had a special place in my heart -- and taste buds -- for North Carolina barbecue. Many of the 24 recommended stops on the North Carolina Barbecue Society’s Historic Barbecue Trail conjure a certain mouth-watering aroma in my memory. Highlights include Allen & Son’s pit-cooked barbecue, in Chapel Hill, NC, with its huge brick pits flanked by hickory logs, and Stamey's Old Fashioned Barbecue, founded by Warner Stamey, who learned to cook pulled pork in the 1920s from friends who sold barbecue out of tents across from the Lexington, NC, courthouse.
Italians claim the first pizza was baked in Naples in the 16th century. Some may dispute this, but few would deny that Naples now hosts the world’s best celebration of the ubiquitous pie, the annual Pizza Fest, scheduled for Sept. 1-30, 2011. The scenic seaside city, always a lively destination, buzzes even more during Pizza Fest with demos, competitions and “master classes” -- held throughout the city -- on how to make traditional Neapolitan pizza. If you can squeeze in line, check out the pizzeria credited with being the world’s first, Brandi, which opened in 1780.
The practice of cheese making dates back to the 4th millennium B.C., and might be even older than that. Wisconsin became a state in 1848, but has done its best in its 160 some years to catch up to the cheese-making standards established over the ages. Start your fromage road trip at the Eau Galle Cheese Factory in Durand, WI, a family operation that produces more than 9 million pounds of cheese each year, and offers tours and samples. Drive 195 miles to Sun Prairie, WI, to the Wisconsin Cheeseman Company Store, where you won’t see cheese made but you will see an abundance of cheese-riddled products for sale. Fifty-five miles northeast brings you to Widmer's Cheese Cellars, in Theresa, WI. Widmer’s claims to be Wisconsin's only factory that still uses real bricks to press brick cheese. Last stop: the Pine River Dairy in Manitowoc, WI, 85 miles to the northeast on Lake Michigan, features more than 250 varieties of cheese, and shows visitors the butter manufacturing process.
The key to enjoying a foodie road trip is the same as enjoying a good meal: slow down and savor every bite!
Travel writer John Briley will never eat fast food again.