A Taste of Indiana
, took place a few weeks ago and since then I have been mulling over in my mind how the event played out this year. For the most part it was incredible. But, and there's always going to a be but
when it comes to an event this large, there were a few small things that could be improved upon next year.
It was an experimental year for the beloved festival, which for years has been celebrating the best Indiana has to offer in terms of locally sourced ingredients in White River State Park. This year it moved into a new area of the park, there were some added options for festival-goers and more people attended than ever before. One look on social media will show you it was a big success in nearly every way. Here is my take away from the event and what I am looking forward to in the years to come.
The food was superb, and oftentimes unique and inventive. A few stand out bites of the day included Cerulean
's celebration of pork, The Swanson. Taking its name from fictional Hoosier and lover of all meat Ron Swanson, the bite was pork belly wrapped in bacon and it was magical and so packed with flavor, it was accompanied by pickles that gave it just the kick it needed (even though we know Ron would have been forced to toss that rabbit food in the trash.
Another bite that has stuck with me since the fest was Taxman Brewing
's offering. They used a unique local ingredient and that is bison tongue. This set them apart in a good way. The tongue itself was incredibly tender and a fresh helping of a Native American succotash (Misickquatash) balanced out the dish.
One of the most interesting dishes of the day was the nitrogen frozen popcorn from Revery
. While the idea was pretty gimmicky, it was tasty and a welcome cool down on such a hot day. The fact that it was directly next to the Story Inn
's delightful, tiny corn ice cream with blue cheese made this tent worth a stop just to cool down.
All in all there were great bites from nearly every chef, but one aspect of the offerings that registered as strange as we went tent to tent and that was the overwhelming amount of duck and soup.
Duck is a hit or miss meat. If someone knows how to properly prepare it, it can be one of the best meats out there. But, it's finicky. I understand why duck was prevalent: Indiana is one the three largest producers of duck in North America and Maple Leaf Farms
in Milford is the largest producer of duckling in North America. When there are five different duck dishes on the menu, it gets to be excessive. Especially when you look at the fact that some other meat options were nearly non-existent. For example, only one beef dish was presented and that was Shoefly's delicious steak tacos.
I would be remiss if I didn't point out that while there was too much duck, 5280 Bistro
's Duck, Duck, Mousse was perfectly executed and one of my favorite bites of the day.
What was more problematic, in my opinion, was the soups.
Soup isn't a warm weather dish, and while I understand it is an easy dish to cook in large amounts and easy to keep during full day of handing out tastings, the fact is the dish itself doesn't fit well within a hot day outside. I will say that Tinker Street
's Tomato-Watermelon Gazpacho with corn and basil was a spicy and cool treat and did make sense.
's Watermelon Soup with pickled rind relish would fit in this category as well. In the future, I would hope vendors would just keep in mind something I heard time and time again throughout the day: "It wouldn't be A Taste of Indiana if it wasn't unbearably hot."
One more positive note that made me excited this year is the fact that there were fewer CAFO
s on the menu and that is a step in the right direction. A CAFO, or concentrated animal feeding operation, is one of the many major issues with large scale animal farming. In the past, the biggest CAFO in the state, Fair Oaks Farms has had a presence at the event. But, this year they were nowhere to be seen and I heard positive feedback about that from multiple people. In CAFOs, like Maple Leaf Farms (the only CAFO present this year), the animals are kept inside with thousands of other animals and do not feed on natural foods, but instead pellets created by scientists.
While Maple Leaf is better than many CAFOs, from their attention to cleanliness to keeping the amount of poultry at a minimum in each confined space, I know many consumers and festival-goers are hoping the event will eventually be CAFO free.
Is it possible to throw an event without beer or spirits involved? No — not a worthwhile event at least. And A Taste of Indiana is definitely a worthwhile event. Though food is the star of DigIN, the drink offerings add just one more local level to show the high quality of cuisine being created in our state. This year the beer and wine lines were just as long as many of the food lines, filled with people getting tastes from over twenty breweries and wineries.
Many breweries had their classic offerings to sample, and if a particular beer struck your fancy you could get a full glass for $5. For me, the 20+ tastings were enough, even though there were quite a few beers I would love to have a full pint of now. I enjoyed the lighter offerings the most, when it's hot all I want is a saison, pilsner, or at most a session ale — stouts and IPAs are fall and winter beers in my book. The cider from Ash & Elm
and mead from New Day
were also favorites for the day.
Though from all accounts the alcoholic portion of the day went by without issue, it was the non-alcoholic offerings that had many people in a tizzy. Water has been an issue in past events and it was again this year. Last year there were complaints about the incredibly long lines to get to the free water stations. This year, the lines were much smaller, but it came at a cost. Water bottles were being sold for a dollar a piece and some people seemed pretty upset by this, mainly due to the fact that there was no free option for water and there was no notice ahead of time. The woman in front of me at the water line put it perfectly: "I understand charging for bottles of water, but at least have the free stations like last year as an option."
The amount of time, money and incredibly hard work that goes into DigIN's A Taste of Indiana, and all of their events, is unfathomable. The team that puts this on deserves more accolades than could be given out. The team behind DigIN is doing their utmost to make people care about their food and keeping it local and sustainable. This event is just one way in which they promote this thought process and I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the organization and their goals. I can't put it better than they do on their website, "DigIN demonstrates that investment in Indiana food and agriculture, through education, experiences and conversation, benefits our community and economy. The organization provides educational resources for agricultural, culinary arts and local food sectors in Indiana. It increases awareness of Indiana’s diversity in agriculture and culinary arts, and Dig IN facilitates connections within the Indiana food community to enhance economic development opportunities."
For this an innumerable other reasons DigIN is one of the most important entities in the Indiana food industry.
So, this year, when the team had their biggest event going into a new venue, there was a lot of buzz and everyone came in enthusiastically. Historic Military Park, while less picturesque than areas like White River State Park, offered something that is much needed during the event, which is shade. It gets very hot and while gorging yourself on food it is nice to get a brief respite from the heat. It also was much more spacious, which led to a better experience as an attendee, the lines didn't feel quite as crammed as in past years.
One thing that was glaringly obvious this year was the importance of getting the early admission tickets. I've been general admission in the past and this year felt much less stressful trying to get to every vendor. In fact, by the time general admission started coming through the gates I had tried every bite from two tents and was onto my third. This also made sure I didn't miss any bites since many booths were out by 1:30 p.m., nearly three hours before the end of the event. This has always been a problematic part of the event, but the fact is the chefs can only bring a set amount of supply and once it's gone, it's gone.
The lines this year ran faster than in the past. I don't think I was in a line longer than 10 minutes, which considering the mass amount of attendees, is crazy. This made the overall experience that much better, even though the lines are a nice place to get into conversations and to hear people's stories, in the end it's all about those bites.
Another exciting stop that allowed for a little break and to see some of the cities best chefs in action was the chef and sous chef competitions. Plat 99
's sous chef Eli Laidlaw pulled out a big W during the event and it was fun to see the incredible amount of talent we have in our kitchens and how much fun the chefs were having with the competition. I'm hoping in the future there is more signage and emphasis put into the tent because a lot of people I talked to had no idea this was even happening and they missed out on what I thought was one of the best parts of the day.
A Taste of Indiana blows me away every year. Seeing the work of the amazing team, farmers, chefs, producers, cooks, brewers, volunteers and everyone else who has their hand in the creation of the event come to fruition as a celebration of Indiana's continually growing food culture is one of the best things that happen in our city every year.
While there are always steps to take to make any event better year after year, it's hard to find much fault with this event and I look forward to sharing a day stuffing my face with the best food this state has to offer for years to come.