Farm-to-conference table: experiencing Flathead Valley’s food and beverage scene

Conference group in tour and dinner at Purple Frog GardensHow and where we meet can be just as important as what we’re meeting about. And making sure conference and meeting attendees have ample, healthful sustenance can make for more productive and more creative work and play.

In the fertile fields of Northwest Montana’s Flathead Valley a movement has been growing over the last decades, one that supports sustainable farming practices and locally sourced food products. Montana as a whole ranks second only to California for the most acres of organic farmland in the country, and the communities along the U.S. Highway 93 corridor of the Flathead Valley boast the most farm-to-school programs in the state.

At the heart of this valley lies the small and dynamic city of Kalispell, whose schools are not the only beneficiary of the burgeoning farm-to-table movement. Restaurants, catering companies, microbreweries and distilleries source locally grown and raised grains, meats and produce to create menus of fresh food and beverage for their patrons.

For meeting planners coming to Kalispell, the hard part may not be menu planning but selecting which restaurant or catering company to employ. The Kalispell Convention & Visitor Bureau will help supply a lengthy list of options that include caterers, such as John Angel’s Catering, that offer international-flavored cuisine with locally sourced ingredients as well as Montana favorites like elk medallions, buffalo short ribs, morel mushrooms and Flathead cherry sauces.

Several of Kalispell’s casual food trucks also source local farm-fresh ingredients and can be just as palatable and so much fun for feeding a crowd. Saucy Dogs serves up locally made gourmet sausages, bratwurst and gluten-free buns; Earth Angel Organics offers fresh, wholesome pasta dishes that are free of gluten, wheat and egg; and Indah Sushi creates local, seasonal and sustainable Asian fusion dishes.

Great food accompanied by Kalispell’s range of unique venues and activity options in the nearby mountain wilderness makes for endless convening and meal options. Set up a banquet table or rounds in the gardens of the historic Conrad Mansion. Meet in the rooms of the Museum at Central School and hold breaks and meals on the museum lawn encircled with food trucks. Book a rafting excursion on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River with Great Northern Rafting Co. and delight in a gourmet riverside dinner of Montana steak and fresh sides from the chef’s garden. And when heading into Glacier National Park (just 40 miles from Kalispell), grab hearty brown-bag “Hiker” lunches for the group at Montana Coffee Traders.

MEET THE GROWERS AND THE MAKERS

The food will always come to you, but it’s also enlightening to see where your food is coming from. Learn from the proprietors of Purple Frog Gardens how they educate farmers around the state about local food and organic-growing practices. Let your attendees get their hands dirty or set tables in the gardens for an alfresco dining experience. Touring former traditional milking operation turned local creamery Kalispell Kreamery offers a captivating story of new and past generations of farmers adapting and building the demand for local food products. Don’t leave without sampling its infamous cream-on-top milk and other creamy products.

Just south of Kalispell on the east shore of Flathead Lake where vast cherry orchards grow, the Johnson family is producing thousands of pounds of organic cherries and creating many of the state’s highly sought cherry products. Tour the operation at the Orchard at Flathead Lake to see how the family business transforms the delectable fruit into jams, chutneys, barbecue sauces and many more specialties.

In Montana craft breweries and small-batch distilleries have become an inseparable part of the local food and beverage scene and offer a fascinating look into how grains, hops and other pure ingredients grown in the Big Sky State are brewed and distilled into the beverages favored by so many. Kalispell Brewing Co. offers tastings and tours of its 10-barrell operation and taproom located conveniently in downtown Kalispell. After a day in Glacier National Park, stop by the red barn of Glacier Distilling for barrel tours and tastings of handcrafted whiskey, rye, gin, vodka and even grappa.

Meeting dietary needs: While Montana may be traditionally known as meat and potato country, Montanans also live in the 21st century of food allergies and shifting dietary preferences. Several local restaurants and caterers are happy to provide gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan menu options to satisfy every palette. But please be aware that the state’s local pleasantries and homespun hospitality will likely never change.


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