I had always considered Stowe, Vermont to be a strictly winter ski destination, but it turns out I was wrong. “Stowe in the summer season,” as I was told by my innkeeper last month, “is perhaps the busiest season.” Tucked just east of Burlington in northern Vermont, Stowe’s combination of 200-year-old village along with its proximity to Mt. Mansfield, the state’s highest peak, makes it an all-season outdoor destination. Warm weather activities for the outdoor-loving tourist include hiking, boating, tennis, gondola sky rides, zip line canopy tours, the Mt. Mansfield auto toll road, Stowe’s celebrated Recreation Path, Smugglers Notch State Park, and events like the one I was headed to — the annual Stowe Food and Wine Classic.
Celebrating its 15th year, the Food and Wine Classic is held over a weekend at the legendary Trapp Family Lodge (of “the hills are alive” fame), and proceeds this year benefited the Vermont Food Bank and Copley Hospital in nearby Morrissville. My friend Lauren and I had planned a visit to Stowe and added the Sunday “Grand Tasting” to our agenda. Yankee is a supporter of the event, and it was hard to resist the call of more than 100 premium wines and samples of world-class food selections from renowned New England chefs in an idyllic New England setting!
Once inside the event tent, we were handed our official event wine glasses and the fun began. In addition to the tastings, there were live cooking demonstrations and a silent auction featuring fine and collectible wines, vacation getaways, and more.
Tables lined the perimeter of the tent (and the adjoining “Vermont Pavilion” tent next door reserved for local wineries and artisanal cheese makers) offering samples, though the beverage offerings weren’t limited to just reds and whites. During my time in the Vermont tent I also sampled sips of Alchemist Heady Topper (an American Double IPA), homemade strawberry rhubarb field wine, and Lime Ricky Fizz made from Vermont-made syrup.
Lauren and I met up with fellow Yankee staffer Heather Atwell, and I momentarily considered if I could get away with picking up the enormous basket of fresh baked breads from King Arthur Flour table and making a run for it. Trust me, the stuff is that good.
Think you can’t get authentic barbecue north of the Mason-Dixon line? As a vegetarian I couldn’t try the offered sample, but a tough critic with a staunch southern BBQ preference declared it “pretty good!” I can vouch for the pasta salad, which was cold, creamy, and just what you want from a macaroni salad on a hot summer day with bits of crunch to balance out the noodles.
Despite the heat, Vermont’s finest cheeses held up thanks to the cheese-loving locals and visitors who gobbled them up before any had a chance to sweat on the board. Equally tasty to offset the wine were the bread samples from King Arthur (sigh!) scattered throughout the tents to help cleanse the palate between sips, and the rosemary, wheat, and maple crackers from Castleton Crackers.
It being June, strawberries appeared in numerous offerings — strawberry panna cotta served in hollowed eggs shells from the Trapp Lodge, orange-scented rhubarb cake with fresh whipped cream and strawberries from The Perfect Wife restaurant, and a dish I can’t remember the name of, but which tasted like diced strawberries and herbed cheese wrapped in a buttery crepe-like roll and garnished with chives (top right, below). The chef was kind enough to prepare one for me without the chicken, and it was delicious. Also worth mentioning (and eating!) was the local mushroom gnocchi with truffle, chive emulsion, and garlic chips from Michael’s on the Hill restaurant (lower right, below). I’d eaten the dish there for dinner the night before and it was outstanding, as was the rest of the meal.
After perusing the many wonderful items donated for the silent auction and stuffing ourselves with seconds of our favorite samples, it was time to head back down the hill to Stowe’s main drag. The views surrounding the lodge were stunning, despite the storm clouds that were rolling in. Just fifteen minutes later, a drenching rain was beating on the hood of my car, but you know what we say here in New England…”if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes.”
Before leaving Vermont for points south, we made a quick tourist stop at famous Cold Hollow Cider Mill just outside of Stowe in Waterbury. Not just for cider, the mill is also known for its apple cider donuts, which are available year-round. Inside the large gift shop/store, lots of on-site and Vermont-made products ranging from toys to cookie cutters to picalilli to homemade fudge are for sale.
Because they kindly give free samples, the mill has to make sure its visitors know where the cider comes from, and how its availability can be affected by the weather. If you’re lucky you can watch the mill’s 1920-vintage press in action.
Another big draw when you visit Cold Hollow Cider Mill is the live observation bee hive, where you can get up close and personal with a buzzing cluster of busy bees before choosing a jar of honey to take home.
And finally, no matter the season, you can’t leave Cold Hollow without an aforementioned apple cider donut. The sweet aroma when you unfold the white wax bag and the light spiced apple flavor when you bite into the donut itself is one of this New Englander’s greatest culinary joys (though, to be honest, I prefer my cider donuts sugared!).
Have you visited Stowe in the summer? Share your favorite things to see, do, and eat in the comment section!