A few weekends ago, on a whim, a friend and I decided to go to the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. And, well, wow, is all I can say. This festival was absolutely amazing, and was only $10! I had no idea about the scope of this festival. Next year I plan to attend every day, as well as register for several of the courses. As a former event planner, I can appreciate everything that went into planning this event. The festival staff did an amazing job. I would normally not mention a port-a-john in a post, but I have to say even they were well planned! They were clean, convenient but unobtrusive, and actually not gross. Anyway, let me get back to the main event…
There was so much to do. We started with the tomato tasting. Yes, I said tomato tasting! There were probably 50-60 different kinds of tomatoes. They cut them into pieces, and you walked around a big table, just tasting. It was pretty amazing. It is such a great way to experience different varieties, and gave me lots of recipe inspiration. I have been making my own tomato sauce and tomato paste for a while, but I now feel prepared to elevate my game. As I was tasting them I could tell which would be good for salads, which for sauces, paste, soup, etc. Tasting them all at once gave me a laser focused palate for tomato.
Each tomato had a sign with details about it, and there were local tomato experts working 3 tomatoes at a time to answer questions. It really was a foodie, recipe creator, tomato lover’s dream. I think we spent about 45 minutes going around the table, just tasting. Most of the tomatoes were grown within 50 miles of Monticello (which is in Charlottesville, VA) and several varieties were grown on property. Some of the tomato experts mentioned that certain varieties were ones that were grown on the property back when Jefferson was there. Which is really pretty cool.
As if we weren’t full enough from the tomatoes, next we hit the watermelon tasting. My first thought was, holy cow, someone had to cut these watermelons into these tiny pieces! But, it was quickly forgotten as I started tasting. I had no idea watermelon could be so different. They are different in color, sweetness, and general watermelon-y taste. (I know it’s not a word…its the best description I can give.) We even came back by later, when they had a couple of completely different melons available, so we did it again. One of them was a yellow watermelon. It was very tasty.
Next, we meandered about the vendor tables. There were a few very notable tables there that I have to mention. One was this charming young musician and hot sauce lover who gave up his drumming career to start a hot sauce company. We chatted for quite a while and he ended up giving me a bottle of his original sauce to try. I also bought a bottle of the milder flavor, which he says he developed for his friends who have kids…so they can have a hot sauce too. Love that! Mad Hatter Foods Hot Sauce is the name of the company, you can find out more at www.madhatterfoods.com. They also have some fun info on their facebook page at www.facebook.com/MadHatterFoods. I used the milder hot sauce to make our Buffalo Chicken Meatballs for my daughters school potluck picnic on Sunday. They were amazing, and got rave reviews from parents and kids. Don’t let the “mild” label fool you though, it’s still got a little kick.
Another vendor I have to mention is the salt table – JQ Dickinson Salt Works. I had no idea I could buy local salt. This company is located on the Virginia/West Virginia border and harvests salt from underground caverns. The website explains it as “A 7th generation salt-making family.” Their philosophy is pure and sustainable food and living. I’m so excited to use this local salt in my upcoming fall recipes. And, can’t wait to get more when I visit their store soon! Learn more about them at www.jqdsalt.com.
There was also a company that sells local, organic mushrooms. They sell these blocks that grow mushrooms, so you can grow your own. They were beautiful. Unfortunately they were so busy I wasn’t able to get much information on them, but will definitely look for them next year. But I just had to share the picture here.
The very last thing we did was sit in on a chef’s demonstration. I have only done this a few other times and never really know what to expect. Charlottesville is lucky to have an amazing culinary school affiliated with the local community college. The head of the school did a demo of some of her favorite recipes, none were “clean eating” but all were delicious, of course. But, I did learn a few things. The trick I’ve used most often since, is making a simple garlic paste. Did you that you triple the garlic flavor if you sprinkle a little salt and mash the minced garlic into a paste with the dull side of your knife before adding it to your recipe? I didn’t! I absolutely love this trick! It’s definitely my new go to way to use garlic when I cook.
Overall, this is probably my all time favorite festival. I’m so glad we decided to go. It is a foodie’s dream. We met many out of town foodies who traveled to Charlottesville just for the festival. Next year, I’m going to make it a family event. They even have a fun excavation area for kids to dig up old stuff from the Jefferson era. My daughter will love that! I can’t wait for next year. If you’re in the area, or even if you’re not, you should definitely plan a trip to Charlottesville for the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. I will be stalking the website (www.heritageharvestfestival.com) until they announce the dates for 2015!