Friday, October 18, 2013

Day 159 - Attending the Isthmus Food and Wine Show

I have never been to a food and wine show. Although I love both food and wine immensely and the idea of paying a flat fee to consume endless amounts of both appealed to me, attending a food and wine show has never been an experience I gained during the first 30 years of my life. This has remained the case despite the fact one of the largest food and wine shows in the upper Midwest, the Isthmus Food and Wine Show, has occurred in the city I call home during each of the last 12 years. Regardless of my desire to attend each time the weekend-long annual event would roll around, my interest was never enough to spur me to action. As a result, attending a food and wine show remained an experience on my “to-do” list with little obvious direction as to when I would finally attend such an event.

Like many comparable experiences as of late, my “I have never...” journey gave me the push needed to finally act on attending a food and wine show this year. In turn, Rachael and I picked up tickets to attend tonight’s event several weeks ago and set aside time this evening to take in everything the event had to offer. While Rachael had attended the Isthmus Food and Wine Show before, the fact that tonight would be the first time I experienced the event inspired a sense of anticipation that carried both of us through our workdays. After meeting at home after work, we quickly prepared to head to the food and wine show and made the short drive to the Alliant Energy Center to kick off the night’s “I have never...” experience.

Food and wine!

Upon arriving at the Isthmus Food and Wine Show, Rachael and I were greeted by some helpful volunteers and employees that guided us through the entry process and welcomed us to the exhibition hall. With our sampling plates and wine glasses in hand, Rachael and I wound our way through the lobby and entered the festival space. As we walked through the exhibition hall doors, I paused briefly to take in the sights around me. A substantial group of people milled about from booth to booth in massive, open space, which was occupied by dozens of food and drink vendors from all over the State of Wisconsin and various parts of the country. The endless amount of options and unclear organization of vendors left me bewildered at first. I knew I had free reign over within the confines of the event, but the environment made it challenging to gain my bearings.

The Whole Foods setup
“Where do we start?” I asked Rachael as we looked over the crowd. Rachael replied with the obvious answer to my question, “Anywhere really...”, which sent us into a brief discussion about our options. Eventually, we decided we would start with a sample of wine before finding something to eat given the absence of an evening meal in our days. As we walked into the festival we took stock of the booths around us, narrowing in on the choices that took a higher priority on our list of stops. Along the way we ran into a friend of ours, Allison, who decided to come to the festival with a group of her former co-workers. After receiving a few recommendations and pointers from Allison, Rachael and I took back to walking the exhibition space until we had some wine in our glasses and an array of cheeses, candies, and food samples from local vendors.

As we worked through our first round of samples, it was hard not to feel a sense of indulgence at the richness and diversity of the selections. Having only visited three booths, it quickly became clear the Isthmus Food and Wine Show would leave us brimming with some of the best food and drink the Midwest has to offer. Pacing ourselves, Rachael and I casually walked through the next round of booths, taking time to talk to the vendors about their selections, read about the vendors’ products, and, of course, enjoy plenty of samples. Our trip took us from wine makers, to specialty grocers, the brewers, to cheese makers, and each of them had something entirely unique to offer. Over the period of little less than one hour we were able to travel the world through wine, experience the foods that make Wisconsin “the Dairy State”, and sample products that were the result of the labors of the very people serving us. The experience kept us engaged and delighted consistently, which carried the only downside of causing time to move very quickly.

Get Culture!
After sampling some more wine and a few cheese-centric foods, Rachael and I continued back toward the front of the complex. There we found the booth for the Get Culture cheese making supply company, which is owned by my Sister in-law, Missy’s, family. We stopped and chatted with the Get Culture crew for a while as we topped off our wine samples and nibbled away at the remained tidbits of food left on our plates. Then, in one of the best moments of the night, Missy’s sister Katie handed me a simple red pin with the words “I Believe in Cheeses” printed across its front. As a direct reference to an inside joke between our families, the pin immediately sent me into a roar of laughter and a state of disbelief. In turn, I immediately tacked the pin to my shirt and proudly stood before the Get Culture crew. Stated simply, the pin made me feel awesome.

After wrapping up our conversation with the folks and the Get Culture booth, Rachael and I worked through the rest of the exhibition hall and made a few return stops at our favorite booths of the night. As we walked, a quick check of the clock revealed the Isthmus Food and Wine Show was less than 15 minutes away from closing for the night, which caused us to take one last sweep of the hall. With our stomachs full, we grabbed a few final samples of food before pausing briefly at the center of the room. We chatted briefly about the event before deciding to wrap up my first experience at a food an wine show and call it a night.

One last look over the festival

As Rachael and I made our way back home from the Isthmus Food and Wine Show, we talked about the highlights from the event and my takeaways from my first experience at such an event. While it wasn’t among the absolute best experiences I have had in my “I have never...” journey, the Isthmus Food and Wine Show provided a terrific way to spend a Friday night taking in some of the best food and drink I have had in some time. The experience permitted me to learn about some unfamiliar companies, meet some new people, and discover varieties of food and drink that I likely wouldn’t have encountered elsewhere. For the ticket cost, the experience provided at the Isthmus Food and Wine Show was well worth it. If all food and wine shows are comparable to this one, I don’t know why I waited so long to experience one for the first time, but now that I have, I’m sure it won’t be the last.

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