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Kalua Pork, Tea Wine And Exotic Mushrooms: The Epicure’s Guide To Hawaii’s Big Island

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kalua pork
volcano winery
A wine tasting at Volcano Winery

Those looking for an epicurious escape need look no further than Hawaii’s Big Island. With a culinary culture influenced by the destination’s volcanic soils, water access and ancient traditions, there is much to taste around the island. To help you plan your tasty itinerary, here is the epicure’s guide to Hawaii’s Big Island.

Wines Infused With Local Fruits And Homegrown Tea At Volcano Winery

One of three commercial wineries in Hawaii, the only winery on Big Island and the southernmost winery in the United States, Volcano Winery makes wines as unique as its titles. Home to eight acres (3.2 hectares) of vineyards and teas — as well as fruit trees — owners Delwin and Marie Bothof grow varietals like Syrah, Symphony, Pinot Noir and Cayuga White, as well as produce organic black, white and silver needle teas. From their crops they’re able to craft a number of unusual wines, their most prized being an “Infusion” meed featuring 100% Hawaiian products, including Macademia Nut Honey, Estate-grown black tea and wine grapes for an unusual twist on both meads and the traditional tea and honey pairing. Another wine that’s quite nontraditional is the “Volcano Red” — the winery’s best seller — which is made from 85% red and white wine grapes and 15% local Jaboticaba berries for a peppery spice finish. Pair these atypical wines with a cheese platter featuring cream cheeses infused with combinations like olive and feta; dried cranberry and smokey bacon; artichoke and Parmesan; smokey salmon and fresh dill; and sun-dried tomato and fresh basil.

Hamakua Mushroom bouquets. Photo courtesy of Hamakua Mushrooms.

Tour An Organic Mushroom Farm

On the Big Island, one can visit Hawaii’s only commercial mushroom producer, Hamakua Mushrooms. Visitors can tour the operation, which grows exotic varieties of mushrooms cultivated in a mixture of corncob, wheat bran and grandis eucalyptus saw dust. The farm uses sustainable practices, and the result is buttery, silky, robust mushrooms that are also organic. Learn the history of Hamakua Mushrooms, watch an informative video, see firsthand the stages of mushroom growth, view a cooking demonstration, sample the mushrooms, and have the chance to peruse their gift shop filled with mushroom goodies made in cooperation with local companies.  In fact, one of their main purposes is bringing the community together, which they do by working with local candy, cookie, snack, coffee, wine and honey producers to create delicious mushroom-infused products. Fun fact: Mushrooms are filled with curative properties, including anti-cancer qualities, antioxidants and the ability to promote vascular health.

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Dessert tray of Kilauea Lodge Restaurant

German-Hawiian Fusion At Kilauea Lodge

Located near the beautiful Volcanoes National Park in Volcano Village, a stay at Kilauea Lodge feels like you’re staying at a local friend’s home. Their restaurant is equally as warm and inviting, with local artwork, comfortable couches, a fireplace and polished wood tables adorned with lampshade candles. Owner and chef Albert Jeyte is the mastermind behind the eatery’s innovative menu, which blends local tradition with his native German culture. While dishes like ahi tuna topped with mango chutney and local mushroom caps stuffed with Swiss, cheddar, ham, turkey and herbs allow you a taste of Hawaii, you can also savor German meatballs with lemon caper sauce and an assortment of German sausages with fried potatoes and sauerkraut. Portions are generous, and each dinner entree comes with a soup or salad. Don’t leave without indulging in one of their decadent desserts, which you can choose from a sweet visual display tray.

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The kitchen garden at Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa

Have A Seed-To-Table Meal In Waikoloa

At the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Chef Jayson Kanekoa has created a unique concept that takes farm-to-table to the next level: seed-to-table. Instead of going to a market and buying lettuce, Chef works with local farmers to plant specific seeds and create exclusive blends just for the hotel restaurant. To immerse yourself in this sustainable concept, dine at their onsite Hawai’i Calls Restaurant on the outdoor patio — surrounded by their kitchen garden — and inhale scents of basil, pineapple and mint while sampling truly local creations. Additionally, guests can request special chef experiences like touring the garden or having Chef present your dishes with a detailed explanation of why he chose to pair certain ingredients. Another fun experience is to head near the beach at 9am on Wednesdays and Saturdays to see their Kalua pork being cooked in an underground, or imu, for an evening luau.

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Colorful coffee cherries at Greenwell Farms

Bring A Cup To Greenwell Farms

No trip to Big Island would be complete without visiting Kona, one of the world’s most famous coffee-producing regions. For a truly delicious, budget-friendly and eye-opening experience, Greenwell Farms offers complimentary tours of their working coffee farm as well as complimentary tastings of 10 different types of coffee (and honey tastings from the local Big Island Bees). Greenwell Farms is located in the heart of the 25-mile (40-kilometer) wide Kona Coffee Belt. They have over 70 acres (28 hectares), work with over 300 farmers and offer a high-quality product with every bean picked by hand. The tour and tasting is also exclusive, as to ensure their brand’s image the farm only sells their product at their store, online and through their discounted Coffee Club.

hawaiian food
A traditional Hawaiian dinner on an ambient sunset cruise

A Historical Dinner Cruise WIth Body Glove Cruises

One ambient and informative meal experience is a historical dinner cruise with Body Glove Cruises, which departs from Kona’s Kailua Pier. The three-hour excursion begins with pupus (appetizers) of crackers, cheese, fresh island fruits, and taro and guava breads, paired with wines, beers and tropical cocktails (you receive one free with your ticket purchase). As you enjoy the scenery, a narrator will enlighten you on ancient Polynesia, Hawaiian myths and why the landscape is shaped as it is. There is also live acoustic music playing when the narrator takes a break. A buffet dinner includes traditional dishes like pork and taro Lau Lau’s steamed in ti leaves; teriyaki beef kabobs; grilled pulehu chicken; Lomi Lomi salmon; and teamed Rice with furikake and shoyu — followed by chocolate cake. Bring your camera, as the sunset bursts with beautiful oranges, yellows, purples, blues and pinks.

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Burying the pig to make tasty Kalua pork. Photo courtesy of Molly Egan.

Culture And Kalua Pork At A Traditional Luau

No trip to Hawaii — especially an epicurious one — would be complete without attending a luau. Typically you pay about $85 for a ticket (Note: Guests at the Royal Kona Resort can purchase tickets for $68), which allows you to experience traditional Polynesian dancing, open bar, an expansive buffet of traditional Hawaiian foods, Hawaiian arts and crafts, and the highlight for the hungry, Kalua pork. Slow-cooked in an underground oven called an imu, Kalua pork is salty, smokey, juicy and tender.

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Free samples of Donkey Balls in their Big Island store and factory

Donkey Balls

Don’t worry; it’s not what you think. The Donkey Balls Store and Factory right outside of Kona is where folklore-inspired candy is crafted from in-house from Guittard Chocolate — you can watch it being made through a see-through window — in unusual flavors. Enjoy free samples of varieties like “Dirty Balls” (milk or dark chocolate rolled in cocoa powder); “Salty Balls” (milk or dark chocolate dusted with sea salt); and “Flaming Balls” (milk or dark chocolate rolled in Cayenne pepper). For some background, the story written on the package says:

“Once upon a time, Kona Nightingale carried the freshly harvested macnuts (Macadamia nut) from the fertile volcanic hills. An uncracked Hawaiian macnut looks much like a ball. Men processing the macnuts would laugh and say ‘here come the Donkey Balls.’ And so began a tale of two balls.”

Jessie Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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