Hilary Carmichael, a resident of Okeechobee, wrote this for Florida Food & Farm.
It’s that time of year! The EPCOT International Food & Wine festival is now under way. Time to make my plans for the seventh year running.
My first time at the festival came about by accident about six years ago on a day trip to Disney World.
Retired, and living alone in sleepy Okeechobee, I confess I get bored here in what is otherwise God’s country. But Orlando’s an easy two-hour drive up the turnpike. And driving to and walking around EPCOT is something I don’t mind doing alone. I’m on my own schedule, with no one else’s preferences to answer to.
During the first visit to EPCOT during the festival (it runs continuously through mid-November), I was a bit put off by the prices of the little food and drink samples. My Scottish side screamed at me for paying $4 to $5 for food tastings – only slightly bigger than the samples given out at Costco for free.
On the other hand, the little New Zealand lamb slider and the mini Greek spankopita I chose as my first food choices were admittedly very tasty – just enough to whet my appetite instead of satisfying it.
The small plastic “glasses” of wine ranging between $4 and $7 were also a bit hard to swallow, knowing I could get a whole bottle of cheap wine at Publix for about the same price. (Cheap being the operative word.)
My tight-fisted Scot side won.
I was sparing in my choices, choosing no more than three for the whole day, saving my hard-earned money and making my practical, penny-pinching Scottish ancestors proud.
Still, I found the experience pleasant – just not quite filling for the money I was willing to give up.
The entertainment, appropriately named “Eat to the Beat,” was free, and far more enjoyable this visit. Plus, I was delighted to find a Scottish-American band, known as Off Kilter, entertaining the crowds in the Canada pavilion.
Still, I returned for it the next year.
Fast-forward a few years. Somewhere along the line, I came to the conclusion I was doing it all wrong. After all, this event was only once a year for me, so why not part with some of my previously hard-earned money, which will just end up being spent wildly in the future by the relatives in my will?
So I turned the annual fest into a mini vacation, and now I plan it out. I actually enjoy blowing a mini fortune on the memorable event, which I find more satisfying than buying cheap wine at the grocery store and eating frozen Weight Watchers dinners.
Florida resident pass a bonus
Thanks to a Florida resident pass, I now make use of Disney’s discounts on their exceptional resorts, many guest privileges such as longer park hours, discounts on purchases and no park tickets to buy.
A free shuttle boat or bus returns me safely to the resort after I’ve sampled several of those plastic glasses of international wines and mixed drinks proudly served by booths representing a variety of countries and cultures.
I sip liberally now as I enjoy the ever-changing bands and solo artists performing nightly at the main stage. This year will feature artists such as Christopher Cross, the Pointer Sisters, Wilson Phillips, Rick Springfield, and Chaka Khan. Bands presented by individual countries, such as the aforementioned Off Kilter, perform multiple shows daily.
This year I look forward to honoring my ancestors by sampling Scotland’s offering of edible sheep offal, otherwise known as haggis.
It will not come close to the real thing I have enjoyed in Scotland, mostly due to real haggis not being sanctioned by the USDA. The sheep stomach dish cannot be purchased in the United States.
But, in my humble opinion, the Disney meat version of haggis will have to be a sure improvement over last year’s disastrous introduction of vegetarian haggis – an idea so repulsive I refused to even look at it. At least they were serving it with the traditional neeps and tatties – rutabaga and mashed potatoes.
I did inform them at the booth of my displeasure when I ordered two samples of Scotch single malt whisky to soothe my psyche. I’m happy to say that vegetarian haggis is no longer offered this year! (You can thank me!)
But no worries – there are plenty of meats to take up the slack all around.
A world trip for the palate
Past international food sample favorites have been those lamb sliders, Australian lamb chop in pesto sauce, a Caribbean jerked chicken drumstick with mango chutney, and an Irish fisherman’s pie.
The Moroccan tangerine mimosa is heavenly – don’t miss it: It’s worth the $7, and you get to keep the plastic flute glass, much classier than the other plastic glasses.
With the good, there are a few so-so dishes – subjectively speaking, of course – but that’s the fun of sampling.
There’s plenty of other free activity to get in on as well. Book signings, meet-and-greet food and wine celebs, cooking basics seminars all are included – check the free program they hand out.
It is a fun fest – the variety of foods and drinks to try, culinary demonstrations, celebrity chefs signing books, mixology seminars, dining packages and nighttime musical acts fit all tastes and pocketbooks.
This year I’ve decided to make it a three-day event to cover even more samples and get the free festival wine glass … yes, real glass – not plastic!
Working my way up to one of the dinners…maybe even one with real haggis.
IF YOU GO:
The 20th EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival Milestone Celebration is ongoing at EPCOT through November 16. With an EPCOT park ticket, admission to the Back to Basics series, special book signings, Eat to the Beat concerts, cultural adventures, and a Marketplace Discovery Passport are included. Other festival dinners and seminars require tickets by reservation.
For information: 407-939-3378; EpcotFoodFestival.com.