As late winter looks toward spring, this month’s food festivals head outdoors, to the woods and to the shore for sugar highs, creamy mirth and moveable feasts.
Florida Strawberry Festival, Plant City, Fla., March 1–11: The state fair has nothing on the Sunshine State’s Strawberry Festival. The sweet bonanza of fruit-related diversion and traditional food-fair merriment, including a royal court, draws hordes of hungry and smiling Floridians, not to mention snowbirds. All are eager for the simple pleasure of strawberries and cream, after which they can try their hand at carnie games on the midway or test their stomachs on a thrill ride. The Neighborhood Village displays homemade, local food and crafts. Competitions aren’t relegated to only the edible variety. Baking and preserving contests share schedule space with needlepoint and scrapbooking. Of course, there’s also pig racing, ideally paired with strawberry-topped funnel cake.
Cincinnati Wine Festival, Cincinnati, Ohio, March 8–10: Cincinnati is an underappreciated world-class city with a magnificent skyline (it’s important!), so it’s no surprise that the riverside urban center hosts a jam-packed oenophile fiesta, complete with dinners, sampling and an auction. The weekend affair is uncorked with a series of elegant wine dinners, followed the next day by hours of access to the tasting room. Ticket prices for seven sips begin at $40. Chin-chin, Cincy.
Hebron Maple Festival, Hebron, Conn., March 10–11: Pour it on thick in this picturesque Northeast town during the 22nd annual Maple Festival, where visitors can tour sugar houses to learn how maple syrup is brewed from tree sap, dig in to maple-flavored cotton candy and enjoy one of the smaller seasonal fetes. Woodworking demonstrations, arts and crafts and family-friendly events round out the festival.
Iowa Rabbit Festival, Iowa, La., March 15–17: The glut of crawfish has passed. Now comes time for rabbit. The annual jamboree includes typical food festival events, like a cook-off — perhaps a chef will present a traditional paella — pageants, a carnival, not to mention woodland creature-related trinkets and a parade with a spring in its step, and myriad cottontails christened Peter. Hop into the hare-raising merriment.
Bluebonnet Brew-Off, Irving, Texas, March 23–24: Craft brewing is finally coming of age in the Lone Star State. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area (where Irving is located), a new microbrewery announces its establishment weekly, it seems. To beer geeks that is happy news. To home-brewers, it gives hope that they too might make it one day. The Bluebonnet Brew-Off showcases the efforts of these amateur hopmeisters as the year’s first contest of the Lone Star Circuit. But not all is BTUs and ABVs. Participants and attendees have the opportunity to get on the bus for one of five pub crawls (two in Dallas and one mystery tour) in the major DFW cities. Beer writer and expert Stan Hieronymus is scheduled to give the keynote address before the festival is opened for sampling.
California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, Petaluma, Calif., March 23–26: It ain’t easy being cheesy. By that we mean in the business of creating well-crafted cheese on a small scale. Enter this fete whose mission is to support small-scale dairies and independent cheesemakers. Visitors to the Sonoma celebration will get blue in the face with the delectable stinky stuff, attend seminars from nationally acclaimed fromagiers and authors, like the Saturday class on grilled cheese sandwiches, and relish locally made food and beverage pairings during tours, including one at Lagunitas Brewing Company.