First Look at the 2017 Epcot International Food and Wine Festivalby Donald and Bonnie Fink, contributing writer
It's that time of year again around Epcot, when we gear up for the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. Scheduled to run from August 31 to November 13, this year's festival will be the longest-running in Epcot history, totaling 75 days.
We recently had a sneak preview of some of the foods and merchandise, and this year is stacking up to be a good one.
This year marks Epcot's 35th anniversary, so it's no surprise that Disney is going out of its way to make it spectacular. There are now 35 marketplace kiosks—no doubt in honor of the 35th year—that offer some interesting and fun eats.
We originally thought that the International Food and Wine Festival was all about food and wines from different countries around the world—and to some extent, it is. But other combinations of foods are making their way into the mix, like Hawaii—which isn't a country—or Flavors From Fire, and Coastal Eats, which aren't countries either, but certainly represent a specific region or theme.
Our perception that foods at the Epcot International food and Wine Festival needed to be from a specific country was just something we needed to get past. After all, how would you present food from America in one marketplace kiosk? And why would it be any different for pretty much any other country? Foods tend to be regional, cultural, or even seasonal, so it's not realistic for us to group them by country.
There are three marketplace kiosks returning to the festival that haven't been here in a while: Spain, India, and Thailand. There's at least one menu item returning from previous selections that we missed last year: the Rib Eye Taco from Mexico. We saw that dish as we walked by two years ago, and always intended to go back. The festival came and went, and we never got around to stopping by Mexico. Imagine our distress when the tacos weren't available last year. Gladly, they're back this year. No doubt there will be other items returning as well.
There are five new marketplace kiosks for 2017: Active Eats, Flavors From Fire, Coastal Eats, Light Lab, and Almond Orchard.
- Active Eats – features a loaded mac 'n' cheese with Nueske's pepper bacon, cheddar cheese, peppers, and green onions.
- Flavors From Fire – this could end up being a favorite with quite a few people. They will be featuring hot and spicy dishes, like Piggy Wings, which are roasted "pork wings" with Korean BBQ and sesame seeds.
- Coastal Eats – showcases food from the ocean, specifically the Pacific Northwest coast.
- Light Lab Beverage – will have several "bubbly drafts and spirited concoctions." We saw a demonstration called T=C2, which was a tonic water and cotton candy mixture.
- Almond Orchard – sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds. This kiosk has a number of almond-inspired foods and drinks, but one that might be interesting is the banana almond soft-serve sundae with fresh berries and crunchy chocolate oats. This drink used almond milk instead of the usual dairy.
We tried some of the food and found some really interesting flavors. From Spain was Charcuterie in a Cone: a selection of imported Spanish meats, cheeses, and olives with herb vinaigrette. This was delicious. The combination of cold meats, cheese, and olives certainly reminded us of the Mediterranean cuisine we've tried in Spain and Italy.
Next was the Madras red curry with roasted cauliflower, baby carrots, chickpeas, and Basmati rice, from India. The rice was plain, but served to complement and curb the intensity of the curry. And the curry disguised the fact that the cauliflower was indeed cauliflower, and not some exotic, well-seasoned meat.
From there we moved on to some of the desserts. We tried the sweet olive oil cake with powdered sugar and lemon curd, from Spain. This cake would have been plain tasting if it were not for the lemon curd, which was quite tart. So much so that only a little dab was on the plate, and that's all that was needed to go with the cake. The combination was definitely something worth writing about.
From Active Eats, we tried a sweet avocado crema with strawberries, yellow cake, and tortilla streusel. This pudding-like dish was a real surprise. Bonnie didn't try it, but it was my favorite for the day. The dish was stacked, with the strawberry on the bottom, followed by a layer of avacado pudding, yellow cake, another layer of avocado pudding, followed by the tortilla streusel on top.
There were surprises in this desert. First, you don't think of avocado as being a delicious, sweet desert, but it was in this case. And second, you might normally think of something called tortilla streusel as being more savory, but it was every bit as sweet and crunchy as any other streusel. This dessert will be hard to walk past during the festival without stopping for a second taste.
Chef Gregg Hannon, Culinary Director for Epcot Food and Beverage, speaks about the food for this year's International Food and Wine Festival. Video by donald Fink.
Here are the menus from this year's International Food and Wine Festival. If something should change, you can probably see it first on Disney's website.
Not being real wine drinkers, it would be easy for us to merely mention that Epcot features a number of great wines, and call it good. But the name of the festival is the Food and Wine Festival, so it should follow that wine is a big part of the whole shindig. This year, there'll be the usual wine classes in the Festival Center, with presentations from some of the best vineyards in the world—but there's something else that caught our eye at the recent press event. This year's new marketplace, called Coastal Eats, offers two West Coast Pinot Noir wines from Oregon. One is Erath Pinot Gris, and the other is Soter Planet. Both wines come mostly from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and have the reputation of being some of the best cool weather wines around. If you like wine, one of these might be good choices to pair up with some west coast seafood choices.
Casa Castillo Monastrell 2014 is from Jumilla in southern Spain. It's a reasonably priced wine that's seasoned for six months in French oak barrels. When wine critic Antonio Galloni reviewed this wine, he described it this way:
"Lurid ruby color. Fragrant ripe cherry and red plum. Sappy and incisive, the palate offers bitter cherry and berry skin flavors, showing very good lift and energy. Fat-free, focused and brisk, with strong closing cut, fine-grained tannins and lingering berry skin and cherry pit notes."
That sounds good to us—but we think you should also check out the local brew below. It's a Passport 35 Triple Chocolate Milk Stout.
Several new things are being offered this year in the merchandise arena. For Annual Passholders, there are a couple of exclusive items worth mentioning. First, there's a Dooney and Bourke handbag, which features prints representing scenes from around the world. There's also a Dooney and Bourke Magic Band, featuring scenes from around the World, plus Chef Figment, a main inspiration for this year's theming at the Festival.
There are a number of new T-shirts and a lightweight Florida-appropriate, hoodie-style sweatshirt with prints from the festival, too.
Devon Figge is the merchandise Events Manager for Walt Disney World. Here, she talks about the merchandise for the 2017 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival.Video by Donald Fink.
The Eat To the Beat Concert Series this year will be better than ever. There'll be many returning artists, and some new ones. Most importantly, there'll be more artists than in previous years too. Some of the returning artists will include Starship, with Mickey Thomas, Plain White T's, Air Supply, and David Cook. New artists will include Baha Men, who did "Who Let the Dogs Out," Mark Wills for you country fans, and Kenny G. We counted 32 artists in the line-up for this year's concert series. Some are performing for two days, but many of them are preforming for three days. The link above shows the complete schedule, and if probably the best reference since it will be the first to reflect any changes throughout the series.
You still have the capability to make a day and night out of it by reserving a dining package complete with preferred seating for one of the concerts. We usually do this at least once during the Festival. It isn't strictly necessary, but it gives us an excuse to have dinner at one of our favorite restaurants at Epcot, and the preferred seating for a concert is fun too. Reservations for the Eat to The Beat Concert Series will be available starting this Thursday, July 20.
Overall, our impression of the 2017 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is that it's going to be a good time. There are plenty of new things to experience, but there are lots of foods, wines, entertainment, and merchandise returning from previous years, some of which have been missing in recent years. This being the 35th year of Epcot, should be one not to miss if you can make it to Florida.