Whet your appetite for great food-and-drink weekend trips, from cheese to craft beer
Written bySunsetJanuary 9, 2013
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Photo by Jen Judge
1 of15Photo by Jen Judge
Chiles: Hatch, NM
Welcome to the Chile Capital of the World, 190 miles south of Albuquerque. Take home a spicy souvenir anytime, but on Labor Day weekend, 20,000 heat seekers come for chile-eating contests, mariachi, and the Chile Queen crowning at the Hatch Chile Festival. $10/vehicle;hatchchilefest.com
Best time to go: September, for peak chile-harvest season.
Stay: The Historic Pelham House is a late-1800s adobe built on an old Apache campground. From $150;historicpelhamhouse.com
Photo courtesy of Heber Valley Artisan Cheese
2 of15Photo courtesy of Heber Valley Artisan Cheese
Cheese: Midway, UT
Today, artisanal cheese producers are creating creamy rounds with the same nuanced terroir of wine, making it a good year to travel just for cheese. One of our favorites is Heber Valley Artisan Cheese, 45 miles from Salt Lake City. Its specialties include queso fresco and Juustoleipa Finnish cheese. Weekly tours with cheesemaker Grant Kohler include a look at the state-of-the-art facility, a lesson in cheesemaking, and a peek at the cave where the cheese is aged. Sign up for a cheese- or yogurt-making class, and you’ll go home with your own, plus a handy kit with the recipe. $5 tour, $30 class;hebervalleyartisancheese.com
Best time to go: February, for the DIY mozzarella class (and a chance to spot elk).
Stay: Homestead Resort, a gracious, century-old hotel just 2 miles from the creamery, has cottage-style suites and rooms that offer a quiet escape. From $224;homesteadresort.com
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Photo by Annabelle Breakey
3 of15Photo by Annabelle Breakey
Cheese: Marin & Sonoma Counties, CA
One look at the green hills of Marin and Sonoma Counties, and you begin to see why this place has the most cheesemakers per capita in the West: cows (and sheep and goats) + grass = good cheese. Farms in these lush hills have been supplying dairy products to the San Francisco Bay Area since the Gold Rush days. Now, San Francisco’s obsession with exceptional local food is giving cheese an even bigger boost. The result? Spectacularly good cheese. Some cheesemakers welcome visitors (usually by appointment), so map out your cheesetasting trail today!
Just under an hour north of the city lies Point Reyes, a gorgeous seashore that also boasts the Bay Area's lauded oysters. At Tomales Bay Oyster Company, you bring the sides, the drinks and the appetite; they supply picnic supplies, hot sauce, and some of the best oysters you can find.
If we were to pick a single icon of Western cooking, it would be wild salmon. For millennia they’ve journeyed from ocean to rivers—in some cases traveling more than a thousand miles—to spawn and die where they were born. And along the way, they’ve sustained both wildlife and humans. Salmon was once plentiful from California all the way to Alaska, but today Alaska is the one remaining Western fishery whose salmon populations are relatively healthy and abundant.
Late fall is high season for clamming in this throwback fishing port, which has all the seaside charm (lighthouse, saltwater taffy shop, jetty for coldwater surfing, fresh-caught crab dinners) you could want.
The coveted Oregon white truffle grows throughout the Northwest, from southern Oregon north to British Columbia, marching west from the Cascades to the Coast Range. The last full week in January, to be precise, when Oregon truffles tend to reach their musky peak of perfection and hundreds of enthusiasts from around the world come to Eugene for the Oregon Truffle Festival—three days of unrestrained fungal madness that includes workshops, cooking demos, seminars, wine tastings, and elaborate multicourse dinners.
Eighty percent of dates produced in the Western Hemisphere come from around the town of Indio, in California’s Coachella Valley. This date palm paradise is the result of dry, hot weather matched with abundant irrigation. Rows of handsome palms, loaded with clusters of ripening fruit, give a welcome lushness to the arid landscape. And you can saver honey-sweet dates by the bagful at stops like Oasis Date Gardens, which also offers tours; Shields Date Garden; and Flying Disk Ranch, which uses biodynamic techniques to produce delicious dates (visit by appointment). Oasis and Shields serve incredibly thick, rich date shakes, especially welcome on a hot Indio afternoon. And if you’re a lover of dates and camel racing, you can’t miss February’s Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival.
Craft coffee geeks will want to head for California’s first coffee farm, 15 miles up the coast from Santa Barbara, at the hillside Good Land Organics. Monthly farm tours come with coffee tastings and a guided hike through the lush tropical orchards with the pioneering farmer, Jay Ruskey. $40;goodlandorganics.com
Best time to go: July, to taste and smell the mature coffee fruit.
Stay: The Hotel Indigo, on the edge of Santa Barbara’s artsy Funk Zone neighborhood, has in-room murals and a rotating gallery of local artists’ work in the common areas. Ask for a room with a private garden. From $199; 2-night min.;indigosantabarbara.com
Photo by Jake Stangel
10 of15Photo by Jake Stangel
Beer: Sonoma & Mendocino Counties, CA
How do you get to the heart of the craft brew craze? Go taste at the source in Northern California. Start in Petaluma, about an hour north of San Francisco, and snake through the two counties that are currently home to some of the most exciting beermaking on the planet. Slip through wine country’s back door to taste toasty lagers, mouth-puckering sours, stouts the color of crude oil, and the West’s signature brew, the hoppy India Pale Ale. Bud country this is not.
We said what everyone else says after they first taste New Belgium Brewing’s La Folie: This isn’t beer! The Flemish-style sour ale, squeezed out in small batches year-round, is aged for up to three years in French oak. The result: an intensely tart brew with a long-lasting dry fruity finish. So much better than beer. newbelgium.com
Best time to go: April, for refreshing sour beer and spring skiing.
Don’t let the skull and crossbones fool you. Up-and-comer Boneyard Beer kegs some of the most balanced beers in the West. boneyardbeer.com
Best time to go: December, when Notorious Triple IPA is released, smooth and subtle with its notes of citrus and pine.
Stay: Stumble 10 minutes to McMenamins Old St. Francis School (pictured) for a comfy room and a dunk in the mosaic-tiled soaking pool. From $125;mcmenamins.com/oldstfrancis
Photo courtesy of The Bruery
13 of15Photo courtesy of The Bruery
Beer: Near Anaheim, CA
Black Tuesday, a caramel-rich barrel-aged stout with enough kick to blot out the SoCal sun, gets its own release party at the Bruery on the last Tuesday of October. By Wednesday, kegs are dry. thebruery.com
Best time to go: October, when the beer is released.
Stay: The Ayres Hotel Anaheim is 2 miles from Disneyland and has a heated pool and free breakfast. From $119;ayreshotels.com/anaheim
Photo by Michael Hanson
14 of15Photo by Michael Hanson
Cider: Saanich Peninsula, B.C.
What better way to celebrate fall than by sipping hard cider and popping artisanal cheese, surrounded by ocean views and 1,000 young apple trees? Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse presses, ferments, and bottles on-site, while you get to sample its full line―made from traditional bittersweet heirloom apples―sitting at long wood tables milled from local trees. Try the dry, earthy Wild English cider, made from wild yeasts. seacider.ca
Photo by David Fenton
15 of15Photo by David Fenton
Five-star dining: Yountville, CA
For a guaranteed dining bonanza, visit this upscale Napa Valley town boasting more Michelin stars per capita than any place on Earth. Thomas Keller's The French Laundry, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc. Michael Chiarello's Bottega (pictured). Richard Reddington's Redd. Philippe Jeanty's Bistro Jeanty. And the list of great Yountville restaurants goes on...make your reservations in advance!