2013 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival – Beer & Food Pairing at Via Napoli

We did this event two years ago, during the first year of it’s existence… it wasn’t as impressive as our first Tequila Lunch, so we decided to give it a year or two to mature. This year, Calvin agreed to come with us – it was nice to have a friend sharing the experience.

We arrived a bit early and since it was HOT, we waited for a bit in the vestibule of Via Napoli

and we took the opportunity to visit the restrooms… the least themed bathrooms I’ve ever seen in World Showcase at Epcot, very bland and boring… they aren’t located in a very accessible area either… Nick says that the restrooms next to the Refreshment Port are even worse, barely above port-a-johns

okay, enough about restrooms!

A few minutes before the event was scheduled to begin, we went outside and stood in the shade and waited to be called to be seated…

We were actually standing behind the servers, they were lined up to take groups to their tables

We were actually standing behind the servers, they were lined up to take groups to their tables

Nick was able to get a few photos of the room set-up and the table settings before guests were seated…

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The tables were arranged such that there’s space for the servers to move about (much appreciated)…

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Round tables were set up to seat four (or if larger, to seat six)…

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Rectangular tables were set up to seat six (or eight if larger; we were at a larger table)

After a brief wait, they began to seat guests… Interestingly, we had checked in first, and we were seated first…

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Looking across the room as other guests are being seated…

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Place setting… bread plate, four beer glasses, water glass, utensils, napkin and menu

Menu Via Napoli Beer & Food Pairing

Menu… it’s crooked because it was printed that way – interestingly, there’s no meat course… just a bit of sausage ragu in the arancini

After we were seated, Gabriele Uberti (GM for Via Napoli) gathered everyone’s attention and introduced us to Jackie, “the beer lady”… Time to begin…

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Gabriele and Jackie – unlike two years ago, he spoke very little… Jackie handled the bulk of the presentation duties

Jackie explaining that we'll be drinking the beer from wine glasses...

Jackie explaining that we’ll be drinking the beer from wine glasses…

All four of the beers today (from three breweries) are Italian Craft Beers. Since Italy doesn’t have a strong beer tradition, the craft brewers experiment with different styles from around the world. There are over 450 craft breweries in Italy, this year’s pairing and last year’s featured craft brews as opposed to beers from the big producers (the first year of the beer & food pairing).

There are four steps to tasting beer (very similar to the steps for tasting wine or spirits)…

  1. look at the color, is it clear or cloudy (if it’s cloudy, it’s the bottom of the bottle, best for beer nerds)
  2. open up the beer by swirling your glass (aerate)
  3. smell the beer, “nose” it (leave your mouth open so that your whole palate is exposed)
  4. taste the beer
Birrificio L'Olmaia, La Cinque - first beer

Birrificio L’Olmaia, La Cinque – first beer [5.5% ABV]

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This beer has a lot of head on it, very carbonated. The nose was citrus fruits and floral hops, I thought it was bitter and Nick thought it was really hoppy.

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Arancini con Ragu di Salsiccia (fried saffron rice balls with sausage ragu, tomato sauce, and fried basil leaf) – origin Sicily

Jackie said that it would pair well with the first course because it likes fried foods… the slight sweetness of the food would play off the bitter of the beer.

The sausage ragu was inside the risotto balls... this is "make it from leftovers" food

The sausage ragu was inside the risotto balls… this is “make it from leftovers” food

I was more impressed with the arancini than Nick or Calvin, I really liked the simple tomato sauce (Nick thought it was quite sweet).

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Although the sausage ragu was inside the risotto ball, the flavors were not detectable

We’ve never ordered arancini before – I mean “fried rice balls” don’t really fit into our usual eating scheme… This wasn’t anything so spectacular that I’d use the calories on it again.

Jackie circulated through the room repeatedly asking and answering questions...

Jackie circulated through the room repeatedly asking and answering questions…

Overall, the first pairing was pleasant… the beer and the food were better together than separately, as a good pairing should be.

Birrificio Montegioco, Runa Bianca

Birrificio Montegioco, Runa Bianca – second beer [4.5% ABV]

Similar color, much smaller head (less carbonation and not as thick as the first beer)

Similar color, much smaller head (less carbonation and not as thick as the first beer) – the aromas were very floral without bitterness or hoppiness – it is flavored with spices, coriander, and orange peel – this is a Belgian-style white

We both thought this beer was very good without food (in fact, we discovered during the first tasting that refills were available if we asked… we definitely had refills of this one). Jackie said that the barley for this beer was roasted longer – yielding more sweetness. It is paired with…

Pizza Fritta con Bufala D.O.C. (Deep fried Pizza with Buffalo Mozzarella)

Pizza Fritta con Bufala D.O.C. (Deep fried Pizza with Buffalo Mozzarella) – origin Naples

The pizza dough is deep fried, then the toppings are added and it’s briefly baked (but not in the wood fired ovens, it would turn into a cinder in there because it’s already cooked). Jackie said that the slight oiliness of the fried dough would pair well with the beer.

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This was like a pizza doughnut without a hole, light and puffy, slightly chewy

We both really liked the mozzarella, it was the good stuff. The crust had a slightly different taste and texture, it was very very good.

Here you can see the FRESH slivered basil and the little puddles of oil from the sauce and cheese

Here you can see the FRESH slivered basil and the little puddles of oil from the sauce and cheese

All in all, Nick thought the beer was a bit too sweet, but the pairing worked well again. I really liked this beer, so did Calvin.

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They left the bottles on the table, two down and two to go…

Chilled bottles of beer await on the serving table

Chilled bottles of beer await on the serving table

Birrificio del Ducato, Nuova Mattina (New Morning) -

Birrificio del Ducato, Nuova Mattina (New Morning) – third beer [5.8% ABV]

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This beer comes from the Abruzzo region of Italy and is flavored with spices: ginger, chamomile, green pepper, and coriander – this is a farm house saison (meant to be drunk in the summer) – it is bottle conditioned, meaning that yeast is added as it’s bottled, it’s cloudier and has a larger head than the second beer

I thought it was citrusy, spicy, sour, and not at all hoppy… quite tasty. Nick also thought it was sour, but in a very good sort of way… he liked it and said it had a “neat flavor.”

Now there are three bottles of beer on the table

Now there are three bottles of beer on the table

Lasagna Verde con Verdure (Wood fired vegetable lasagna)

Lasagna Verde con Verdure (Wood fired vegetable lasagna, spinach and béchamel)

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Lasagna is usually made with a meat ragu, but they chose to make this one lighter and creamier by going with spinach and béchamel.

I thought it was like eating macaroni and cheese on steroids (we RARELY eat pasta and cheese). Nick really liked the pairing. Calvin really liked the pairing. I thought it was the best pairing so far.

The lasagna glamor shot... you can really see all the layers of flavor

The lasagna glamor shot… you can really see all the layers of flavor

Birrificio L'Olmaia, PVK

Birrificio L’Olmaia, PVK – fourth beer [4.5% ABV]

You can clearly see that Nick's pour came from the bottom of the bottle - it's cloudy

You can clearly see that Nick’s pour came from the bottom of the bottle – it’s cloudy, if you look carefully, you can see the bits of yeast…

This beer (from Tuscany) has a neat story behind it… Present day Italians were excavating an Etruscan archeological site and found evidence of a fermented beverage (400 BC), so they tried to recreate it with indigenous grains, not malted, and local spices such as bitter orange, coriander, and honey.

I got a whiff of ammonia when nosing this beer, I even thought it tasted faintly of ammonia – I wasn’t sure that I liked it or that I would like it any better paired with dessert. Nick’s initial comment was “that’s different” and then he said he could see how I would get “cleaner” out of it – without food, his least favorite so far.

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Four bottles of beer on the table… #4, #1, #2, and #3

Chef Charlie Restivo was introduced between the fourth beer and the dessert service

Chef Charlie Restivo was introduced between the fourth beer and the dessert service

Dessert - Zeppole al Limoncello (dough fritters, limoncello cream, small drizzle of chocolate)

Dessert – Zeppole al Limoncello (dough fritters, limoncello cream, small drizzle of chocolate)

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Zeppole are ricotta cheese fritters from southern Italy, these were very light…

BUT the standout was the Limoncello cream… we would eat that with a spoon as pudding. The pairing turned out quite nice, the beer opened up some as it warmed.

Chef Charlie came through the dining room and spoke to everyone while we enjoyed dessert.

Chef Charlie came through the dining room and spoke to everyone while we enjoyed dessert.

A few final thoughts:

  • Since 2012, this event has showcased craft beers – much more interesting and we’re more inclined to do this event every year as it will change AND there’s the opportunity to have some beers that we might never see otherwise
  • All four beers were unfiltered and un-pasteurized – definitely affects flavor… One gentleman at our table didn’t care for the beers, when Jackie asked him why, he said “because they don’t taste like beer!”
  • It was a little surprising that three of the four courses were deep fried, but I must confess that it was all prepared excellently
  • Nick’s favorite beer was the Nuova Mattina – Calvin’s two favorites were the Runa Bianca and the Nuova Mattina – my favorites were also the Runa Bianca and the Nuova Mattina
  • The service was much improved from two years ago, it was even an improvement over the service at Tutto Gusto last week
  • I still say that this space was never intended to be enclosed, it is extremely loud with nothing in the space to soak up noise

Would we do this again? Yes 🙂

Details:

  • Date: October 8, 2013 – 1:30 to 3:15-ish, we didn’t feel rushed, the pace was nice
  • Cost: $55/person, again quite reasonable for the quantity and quality of food and beer

If you’ve made it this far, a quick story. First the backstory, Nick and Calvin go for a 10K walk once a week during cooler weather. Now Nick will avoid puddles or mud or even grass clippings when walking (especially if his shoes are relatively new, pfssst his shoes always look nice) AND so will Kate (Calvin’s wife) … actually Nick and Kate are alike in quite a few ways and Calvin and I have some similarities too (like we don’t intentionally walk in mud but we aren’t particular about it)… So that’s the backstory. Here’s the story. Calvin drove us all to this event, thus we had to walk in from the parking lot (obvious I know)… We’re walking along, me in the middle, all of the sudden, Calvin veers off to the right. I look over just as he’s STOMPING in a water puddle with a very mischievous grin on his face! It made us all laugh and it’s another example of why it’s fun to do things with Calvin. His sense of humor is very wry and somewhat dry… even if his shoes weren’t!!!!

 

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