Food travel continues to grow nationally, as more travelers than ever search for a taste of place. Perhaps as a result of their German pioneer heritage and culture of farmers gathering in town to socialize weekends, Fredericksburg, Texas, has preserved this welcoming sense of hospitality -- gemütlichkeit as it is known in the German tradition. Eating well and cooling off with a refreshing drink, especially when the mercury tops 100-degrees, is a tradition upon which the thriving tourism industry is based.
Today, there are over 30 wineries, a world-renowned chocolatier, bustling micro-distillery, peach orchards, and an array of farm-to-table restaurants to serve travelers seeking both the heritage and hipster flavors of the Lone Star State. Besides the pioneering spirit of Fredericksburg, this increasingly popular foodie destination is a perfect addition if you’re already attending the Mother Earth News Fair in Belton, Texas, about a two-hour-and-a-half drive away.
Artisanal Entrepreneurship Thriving
“We geek out over Texas terroir, crafting and curating food and drink that reflect our Hill Country landscape,” shares Evelyn Washburne, co-owner of La Bergerie, a new artisanal market specializing in fine wine, cheese and charcuterie. Evelyn and her husband, John, represent a new wave of young area food entrepreneurs, blending their passion for all things local with a commitment to quality and taste. Hand-crafted sausages hang and cure in their own curing room, blending local meats with Hill Country flavors like pecans and juniper berries.
La Bergerie passionately champions this rebirth of charcuterie, the traditional means to preserve meat before the age of refrigeration. Foodies embrace this Old World skill revival as it creates a means to add and taste flavors in the meat through a fermentation process. “It takes two years to cure a ham, so we’re still waiting on this one,” shares James Monzon who manages this new charcuterie for La Bergerie. Part scientist and part chef, Monzon embraces something too often missing in our fast food world today: the good stuff takes time.
Lecia Duke, owner of Chocolat, has turned her passion for chocolate into a unique specialty: she is the first creator of European-style, liquid-centered chocolates in the United States. Wafts of chocolate welcome you as you enter her shop and your eyes are quickly drawn to the cases lined with her handmade tempting treats. Duke channeled her former architecture training and career into designing her own processes of crafting chocolates with a liquid center by creating a sugar crystal cocoon like center in which the liquid is stored.
“I recommend you place the chocolate in your mouth and let it dissolve slowly,” Duke describes with an exuberant glee you wouldn’t expect from someone whose been running her award-winning business, Quintessential Chocolates, for 38 years. “The center will naturally break and you will experience a flavorful burst of whatever is in the center, paired with the chocolate.”
You’ll find an array of liquid fillings, from liquors like almond infused tequila and local wines to fruit nectars and coffee. The alcohol fillings have been a particular challenge as oddly such candies are still illegal in 37 states even though they have been made in Europe for over 200 years.
“These laws are kind of crazy, as you would need to eat 3,000 pieces of my chocolate to equal one glass of wine,” explains Duke. Add in the complex process of structurally producing these chocolates and you quickly realize this is not your average candy company. “Don’t tell a Texas girl no,” adds Duke with a grin that perfectly sums up her determined entrepreneurial spirit.
“We can fill four bottles at a time,” smiles Scott Hladky, co-owner of Elk Store Winery & Distillery. Sporting a star tattoo on each elbow, he’s all about small, hand-crafted batches of spirits. Craft distilleries like this one are in that hot, booming sweet spot that microbreweries were in a decade ago as foodies increasing seek out unique, local flavors.
Let one of the bartenders shake up classic cocktail for you with a local twist such as their Nuckin Futz showcasing their Pecan Pie Moonshine alongside cream, chocolate bitters and candied pecans. Go a little Texas crazy and add in the espresso shot.
Stock up your home pantry with Texas Hill Country flavors with a stop at Das Peach House, where you’ll find Fischer & Wieser’s Specialty Foods’ jellies, jams and sauces. Still at the same site of their original roadside fruit stand on family farmland complete with a bucolic pond, this family-owned business has been operating in the community for nearly 50 years.
Today, the brand has expanded to 70 award-wining products, including their Original Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce, blending smoky, sweet and spicy all in one sauce by pairing raspberries and chipotle peppers. Their new Culinary Adventure Cooking School and Tasting Room give you offer a variety of opportunities to both sample and learn new skills to take home to your kitchen.
Booming Wine Industry, plus a Hotspot for a Beer and Music
While peaches and pecans may have been the staple agricultural products grown in the Texas Hill Country, the dry climate and keen interest among the droves of visitors who descend on Fredericksburg every year make this the second most visited wine region in the country next to Napa Valley. It’s all about Texas grapes in these wines, some with their own vineyards and others bring in grapes from other parts of Texas with grape growing climates, particularly the high plains west of Lubbock.
You can travel down “Wine Road 290” and experience the number of wineries along Highway 290, but be sure to head a few miles off the mainstream path and visit one of the newer vineyards, Narrow Path Winery. If a spectacular view contributes to a wine’s taste, then Narrow Path Winery excels, as you can take in the vineyard view while enjoying a glass of their Rose or other wine from their small batch vintages of under 200 cases.
4.0 Cellars offers collaboration at its finest. Three wineries came together for this tasting venue so you can sample from Brennan Vineyards, Lost Oak and McPherson Cellars. But they take wine collaboration to a new level: pair it with chocolate. Check out their “Texas Chocolate and Wine Experience” class that takes you through six wines expertly paired with homemade truffles such as Pecan Praline and Blackberry Jalapeno, all with lively narration.
Top off your tasting tour with a brew at the world-famous waterhole in Luckenbach, made famous by Waylon Jennings’ and Willie Nelson’s classic song that hit number one on the country charts in 1977. A song about a couple feeling the pressures of high society living, they are encouraged to return to the simple life and "the basics of love" back in Luckenbach. Come on a weekend night and you’ll experience Hill Country social life at its finest as thousands hit the dance hall floor.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam and millions of ladybugs.
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