There's a lot more to food these days than eating it. In this era of farm-to-table dining experiences, organic ingredients, wineries and craft beers, people want to know more about what they eat and drink.
Food and beverage tours are growing in popularity, and there are tours showcasing the various tastes and dining scenes to be found throughout Pennsylvania. They allow people to discover new foods and wines, how they’re made and how they can be best served or prepared. And they’re not just for foodies.
“It started with the farm-to-table craze,” says Philip Hiestand, who founded Lancaster County Food Tours in 2017. “I think people are much more aware of what they’re eating, and taking note of that in their minds. A food tour is a great way to learn about food.”
Andy Rupert, director of marketing for the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau, says the “eat local” movement and the growth of fresh food and craft beers have worked together to make tours popular.
“Most people take pride in purchasing local and knowing their purchase makes a difference to a local business,” he says. “Playing into that, tourists tend to love unique experiences that can’t be easily replicated elsewhere. Food and beverage owners have played on these desires and have worked together to form trails.”
They also can make for a terrific team-building outing or an activity when visiting an area for a business meeting or convention.
Gettysburg is famous for its crucial Civil War battle and a historic address made by Abraham Lincoln. The Gettysburg Battlefield draws millions of visitors each year, but the town of Gettysburg and Adams County are also known for their food scene.
Savor Gettysburg Food Tours offers five different tours. The Historic Downtown Food Tour is a three-hour walking tour that takes visitors to seven locations for food tastings. Participants also learn about civilian life during the battle. The Wine, Cider and Dining Tour visits four winery tasting rooms then wraps up with a three-course, sit-down tapas tasting at the number one restaurant in town.
New in 2017 was the 12 Tastes of Christmas, a holiday-themed food walking tour, which also incorporated visits to downtown stores that were decked out for the holidays.
During the summer, Savor Gettysburg offers a Farmers Market Tour and Cooking Class. The tour stops at two farmers markets, where a chef walks participants through the offerings and shows them what to look for. They then head to the Adams County Arts Council where the chef shows everyone how to make a meal from the ingredients they chose.
Another option is the full-day Field-to-Fork tour where a group of up to 12 travels to a farm and picks fruits, veggies and herbs for a chef to prepare a meal.
Owner Lori Korczyk says Savor Gettysburg has arranged for corporations including Exxon.
“The environment creates a meaningful connection with one another in a very relaxed environment,” she says. “It’s a fun experience to do with coworkers outside of the office. It brings people together because food is a universal thing, it’s something we all have in common. It creates a relaxed atmosphere and a learning atmosphere.”
City Brew Tours offers educational craft beer experiences in various cities, including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. “We work with about 85 different breweries across six different cities,” says Chad Brodsky, founder. “Typically, it’s about a dozen breweries in each city. We have beer expert guides who also have charisma and a theater background where they can entertain, educate and we like to say captivate, for our corporate and conference groups. So you’re looking at a very different, unique outing and we create customized craft beer experiences.”
He says corporate outings can be arranged for various budgets and group sizes starting at around four people. Tours have been arranged for groups as large as 400 people.
Brodsky says tours can accommodate all sorts of tastes, including those who don’t like beer. “There are a lot of beers that can coincide with wine, where we can open their palates to that,” he says. “That’s what our beer experts do, they find out what [guests] like and teach them about the styles they would enjoy, based on what they already like. And also opening their minds to things they may not have tried.”
Lancaster County Food Tours showcases the cuisine in an area known for its farm-to-table scene. “We’re really lucky in Lancaster County. It’s one of the best farm-to-table areas because of our farming community and our tradition with the Amish,” says Amy Blackburn, marketing director. “That’s how it started but that’s blossomed into inviting world-class chefs to come to Lancaster to open restaurants, which is what we highlight on the chef’s table tour. You drive past the farms where a lot of the food comes from, and people like that connection.”
Lancaster County Food Tours offers a walking tour in the town of Lititz; a “Market and Beyond” tour that visits seven businesses and ends up in Lancaster’s Central Market; and a premium chef’s table, which stops at five restaurants for appetizer-and-cocktail pairings.
Blackburn says the tours make for a terrific team-building experience as they combine food with history.
“It’s a really great way to connect with people in a different fashion, and have an experience that’s different from just a lunch out,” she says. “You’re learning the history and background of each area and why they’re great, the connection to our food and why we have so many great restaurants coming in.”
The Central Pennsylvania Tasting Trail comprises four wineries, two distilleries, four breweries and two cider breweries. “I think when you step foot into a brewery, winery, distillery or cidery you tend to relax a little bit,” Rupert says. “The owners and employees at our businesses are really welcoming and open to talking about their craft. Being able to relax, have some fun, learn something new and have a high-quality beverage mellows a group out to make solid connections with one another. I believe that is when business really gets done.”
The Bucks County Wine Trail is the promotion arm for eight family-owned and operated wineries in Bucks County. Three wineries on the tour host events, including Crossing Vineyards and Sandcastle. “Sandcastle overlooks the Delaware River and there are picturesque views,” says Theresa Katalinas, publicist for the wine trail. “One of the rooms they have available is an upstairs gallery, so there is beautiful art on the wall and you can go to the balcony to see breathtaking views.”
From November to April, the tour offers passports of the wineries. For $30 people can visit all eight wineries for tastings. These are good for the entire season, making them a good choice for an extended stay, or for people who return to Bucks County for meetings and events on a regular basis.