One of the preeminent food and wine festivals of the fall isn’t held in some metropolis on the East or West Coast, but rather in a state known for its cheese production and die-hard football fans: Wisconsin. In its 14th year, the Kohler Food & Wine Experience (October 23-26) is still a bit of a hidden Midwestern gem. But don’t let its bucolic, seemingly remote location at Kohler (the village is actually only an hour north of Milwaukee and 2.5 hours north of downtown Chicago) keep you from the festival, which rivals any top food fest in the nation with celebrity chef appearances, tastings galore and world-class accommodations at Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star The American Club.
What To Know
Held at Kohler, a quaint hamlet located about five miles from the shores of Lake Michigan, the event attracts several thousand food and vino lovers from the Midwest and beyond. You can purchase tickets to individual sessions, which are scattered across the resort’s sprawling grounds — be prepared to walk between locations or take the complimentary shuttle. Typically, the schedule includes demonstrations, tastings and seminars that range from cooking comfort foods to pairing chocolate and wine. New this year: You can buy a day pass, which includes four daytime events and an evening option. There are also loads of free samplings and interactive outings — such as cake decorating and Mondavi tastings — held throughout the property.
What To Do
Friday and Saturday are packed with seminars all day long and the tough part will be choosing which ones to visit. We suggest (at a minimum) getting a ticket for a food demonstration and a wine, beer or craft spirit tasting — that way you’ll get some sustenance while you learn about making gluten-free recipes and understanding Sonoma Valley wines at the same time. Celebrity chefs (Graham Elliot, Stephanie Izard, Rick Tramonto) host culinary exhibitions and give ticketholders a chance to mingle with them. Some of these seminars are already sold out, so book remaining tickets as quickly as possible. Our must-see sessions: Friday’s cooking class with Elliott and Saturday’s tutorial on pairing port with Kohler’s addictive made-in-house chocolates. Insider tip: Any unsold seats are given away five minutes after the seminar begins. If you want to mingle with some of the chefs, wine experts and more who will lead sessions at the festival, head to The Winery Bar adjacent to the Four-Star Immigrant Restaurant after the day’s events. It’s a popular nighttime gathering spot for headliners.
Where To Stay
For a true Five-Star experience, reserve a room at The American Club, a grand Tudor-style building that has a charming Old World vibe and super-luxe, modern amenities (like the heavenly Kohler shower experience with multiple spouts and panels that have a massage-like effect). As of this publishing, the hotel still had rooms available over the Food and Wine Experience weekend. But with knowledge that one of the resort’s other facilities, Inn on Woodlake, is already sold-out for the event, you will want to act with haste. Regardless of where you rest your head, though, try to work in a treatment at the spectacular Five-Star Kohler Waters Spa, which features wine-inspired services this month. The Wine Down Body treatment, for instance, starts with a warm towel application, followed by an exfoliation and finished with a rich serum for smooth and soft skin. It will get you primed for a day of food and vino.