Pairing food and wine for three ultimate equine experiences
By L.A. Sokolowski-Pomeroy
It’s a sound as evocative of spurs on a barn floor or ice cubes in a party glass, and when the two combine, the results can be deliciously harmonious. Whether it’s the rustic chic of a barn party, natural camaraderie of a campsite “wine-down” or easy elegance of an after-show social, the right pairing of food and wine to enhance an equine-themed get-together are as essential as matching the right horse to the right rider.
The Ultimate Barn Party
Meet Paws Up, the five-star ranch and resort that first coined the term “glamping” in 2005 to describe the fine art of elevating outdoor camping to a luxury experience. Two years before, the Lipson family of Greenough, Montana—owners of one of the largest registered seed stock Black Angus operations in the state—found their 3,000 head operation outgrowing its 37,000 acres. Their options were leasing more ranchland to expand the herd or change the direction of the family business. They chose the trail less traveled: Paws Up was Montana’s first luxury ranch resort, marrying the historic, century-old working cattle ranch with the modern conveniences of an ultra-luxury getaway.
Over the last dozen years, that concept has been as carefully managed as its livestock, with the introduction of a new camp every other year. What started as three tents in one small camp has evolved into six separate campsites and 36 palatial safari-style tents, complete with flat-screen TVs, WiFi, heated bathroom floors, rain showers, hot tubs, a personal butler and the gourmet cuisine of your own chef.
In 2006, Paws Up made its initial foray into specialized culinary events with the introduction of Montana Master Chefs. This year, it will host more than 15 such gastronomic adventures, from Montana Master Grillers to its newest series, Cookbook Live, where renowned chefs bring their own award-winning cookbooks to life for the whetted appetites and good fortune of its guests.
Whereas earlier food and wine choices were influenced by Northern California cuisine, peppered with a minor accent on wild game, Paws Up has since placed a greater emphasis on local wild game and an expanded collection of domestic and international wines. Executive Chef Ben Jones has committed his menu to cultivating local relationships, and sourcing from Montana growers is a daily priority.
According to Paws Up, the recipe for a barn party that guests will not soon forget is one part rustic authenticity to one part stylish appointment. Get folks relaxed and mingling before the main course with activities like a mechanical bull, hatchet-throwing or whip-cracking lessons, and horse-drawn wagon rides. Keep younger guests entertained with watermelon- or pie-eating contests, and get boots scootin’ after dinner with a line-dancing instructor and upbeat country band.
If your barn is fairly large, make the space more intimate by creating small alcoves and seating areas in some corners—try using straw bales and wooden benches—while adding a Western-themed photo booth (and fun props) in another where guests can make their own memories. Flameless LED candles (the more the merrier) add safe and subtle elegance that lasts all evening long.
Stoking a Campfire ‘Wine-Down’
Although little can outdo the natural majesty of a starlit sky over a crackling campfire, Dave and Janet Leishman of Bar W Guest Ranch in Whitefish, Montana, have come pretty close. The ranch had been noting for nearly a decade how wall tents earned praise from guests during its popular cattle drives so, in 2012, they opted to offer the creature comforts of glamping in the great outdoors.
“Guests experience the best of both worlds—feeling a part of nature while staying in an elegant setting with the comforts of home,” the Leishmans said. Each tent on an ever-expanding “glampground” is outfitted with custom furniture by local craftsmen, as well as a heater and air conditioner to assure a cozy environ whatever the weather over its May 1 to October 31 season. “Glamping has been a wonderful addition and truly unique experience. It’s a natural fit to a dude ranch. Guests love to sit on their own porch with a beverage and watch the horses graze.”
Bar W guests want to spend their days outdoors playing hard and building big appetites, so Chef Cody delivers down-home, family-style ranch cooking and plenty of it. A staple is its Friday Night Cowboy Cookout, replete with rib-eye steaks hand-carved off the bone and accompanied by baked beans, fresh rolls and salads, grilled potatoes and local root vegetables.
Many states claims to have the horse capital of America but only one has the history to back it up. In upstate New York, the motto of Saratoga Springs is “Horses, Health and History” and is home to the longest-operating sporting venue in the country—more than 150 years strong. From racing to shows to polo, Saratoga Springs is an epicenter of equestrian activity, and few cater to the needs of its social life better than Steph Pettit and Old Daley Custom Catering. What began in the mid-1970s as a popular steak house was reinvented in 2000 strictly as a catering service known for “gourmet comfort” food; since 2012, it has been resident caterer for the Saratoga Polo Association.
“We are generally serving guests in box seats or in the stands on a warm evening, so the food is simple, light, casual and refreshing,” said Steph, who has 35 years’ experience in the food business as a chef, event planner and avid diner. “For VIP events we will do custom menus to pair with the beverages we are serving.”
Forays into red wine and whiskey tastings have not always paired well with warm summer nights, she says.
“White wine and bubbles are best,” Steph shared.
Get inspired by seeing how the pros get the party started.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2017 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.