We are less than one month from the start of the 2014 Epcot Food and Wine Festival and it will be here before you know it!
Today, we are anticipating some of our favorite Special Events. While we love the Marketplace Booths and Low-Cost Demonstrations and Seminars, it’s fun to splurge once in a while on a few of the Special Events, culinary experiences that take place throughout the festival.
Much is made of wine — after all, this is a food and wine festival. But in recent years, Epcot has expanded its offerings to lovers of cocktails and beer as well.
The opportunity to try craft beers and brews from all around the globe is especially exciting. So let’s take a closer look today at one of the events that is especially geared toward beer lovers — The Italian Food and Beer Pairing Lunch.
Italian Food and Beer Pairing Lunch at Epcot’s Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria
I attended this event during its inaugural year. While the food was delicious and the beer servings were generous, we were disappointed by the event format. It was basically a luncheon with none of the presentation or explanation that we’ve come to expect with these types of events.
We were anxious to try again though, and last year I was able to attend the event again.
We arrived at Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria a little early for the event. That’s always a good idea so that you can scope out the venue — especially at a place that is still functioning as a regular restaurant while the event is going on. It’s not always easy to find the registration desk for the event versus the regular check-in line for the restaurant!
While I’ve had trouble with this particular distinction at Via Napoli before (they usually have people check in for the Food and Wine events at the regular check-in desk), on this visit they had the registration desk separate.
That said, the sign was a little confusing. Apparently, it’s doing double-duty for both the Beer Pairings and the Wine Pairings. Our event included only beer; there isn’t a combo event, for those of you who are wondering.
We were greeted by one of the managers, who showed us to the area where the event would take place.
We found our tables set with all of the glassware that we’d need for four courses. There was also fresh Bread with Olive Oil for dipping to get us started. Note that seating seemed to be assigned at this event. I’ve found that to be the case at more and more food and wine events these days.
Individual menus made for handy references throughout the meal and great souvenirs after it was complete.
Before we got started, I had a few moments to acquaint myself with the other guests seated at my table (another good reason to arrive a bit early!). I also had a chance to look over the menu.
It seems that the Italy Culinary team have gotten the memo; our event included a presenter (from the Italian beer distributor) who spoke knowledgeably about each course and the beers that were chosen for the luncheon. We talked specifically about the fact that wine is far more popular in Italy, but that the craft beer market is definitely emerging there. The cool part? Italians invest as much love and passion into creating beer as they do wine!
Speaking of beer, we were poured small glasses for each course. The bottles were larger, a liter or so, rather than the 12-ounce bottles we saw at the event the last time — so we didn’t all get our own bottles. However, refills were available.
We began with the Birrificio del Ducato’s Nuova Mattina. The fresh ale is created with the addition of chamomile and ginger, rendering a crisp, citrusy, herbal flavor. It was a good way to begin our journey.
It was a little light when paired with the hearty Minestra Maritata, a Vegetable Soup with Sausage and Beans. I thought it stood best alone, sort of like a beer aperitif. Still, I enjoyed it.
Our next beer was My Antonia. Named for the Willa Cather novel, this imperial pilsner was born from a joint venture between Dogfish Head Brewery (yep, American) with Italian brewer Leonardo DiVencenzo of Birra del Borgo at a beer festival in Italy.
After that experience, the guys from Dogfish Head returned home and created My Antonia for distribution in America. But here’s where it gets a little confusing; there is an American version (with a white label) and this version, which is brewed in Italy. It’s special because it’s fairly rare to find this one in the US. So how awesome that we had the chance to try it!
So I guess we call this one Italian-collaborative. A little heavier than the preceding beer, it was golden in the glass with the pronounced flavor of hops and a slightly sweet taste.
It complemented our next course, the Pizza Margherita with Buffalo Mozzarella, perfectly! But then, you have to work pretty hard to mess up beer and pizza, I think.
So far, I’m learning that Italian beer has a lot to do with aromatics. It’s pretty common to have beers brewed with various herbs, fruit rinds, and other additives to enhance the aroma and flavor.
Our next selection was Birrificio L’Olmaia, PVK. This beer hails from Montepulciano and is brewed in the style of a Belgian White, or Witbier. The crisp, hazy beer recalled the flavors of citrus fruit.
I found this to be an excellent choice paired with the Pesce allo Tiano, a Fish Stew with Clams, Tomatoes, Olives, and Capers. So pretty!
Our final beer was Birrificio Montegioco’s Runa Bianca, another Belgian White. In the glass, it looked nearly identical to the previous beer.
The flavor of orange peel was more pronounced in this one, though. But there are also other fruit flavors, which paired especially well with our final course.
What? You don’t drink beer with your dessert?? You should give it a try!
But seriously — I thought this was a fun pairing. Because essentially, the Mele Fritte were very similar to Apple-Stuffed Doughnuts. The crisp beer cut the richness of the dessert really well. I thought it was a great choice, and a nice change from a dessert wine or cordial.
As is just about always the case, we wrapped up yet another delicious meal at Via Napoli, ready to head out and enjoy the rest of our day in Epcot.
I love these Special Events for their ability to delve a little deeper into the cuisine of a country, and to give you an authentic look at food and beverages from those areas. Having said that, they are pricey. It pays to choose your experiences carefully. But if you’re interested in learning more about a craft beer movement that’s still in the early stages, I think you’ll like the Food and Beer Pairing Lunch in Italy.
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Have you had a chance to enjoy a Food and Beer Pairing in the Italy Pavilion? Tell us what you think in comments!