From the Rocky Mountains to the world-famous geysers at Yellowstone National Park and the ice fields of Glacier National Park, Montana is nature’s playground. Most visitors don’t think about great food when visiting Big Sky Country, but there, it’s only natural that nature’s playground would yield basketfuls of products from ranches, farms and mother earth herself.
Here’s what to put on your “taste” list while you’re out communing with nature:
Waghu Beef – With ranches in every part of the state, you are sure to taste some of the best beef in America. Waghu cows have been bred for over 500 years and although Waghu refers to several different breeds of cow, they are all recognized for their high grade of meat. Kobe beef, one of the varieties of Waghu beef, is marbled in texture and contains healthier unsaturated fat. A number of Montana ranchers are raising grass fed organic Waghu cattle and now Kobe beef is featured on menus at fine-dining establishments and upscale eateries. Try Hops Downtown Grill in Kalispell or Rainbow Ranch Lodge in Big Sky.
Bequet Caramels – If you have a sweet tooth, Montana’s Bequet Caramels are a real treat. Available at fine food stores across the state, these hand-made caramels are only made in small batches. They are available in twelve flavours such as Celtic Sea Salt, Green Apple, Chocolate Salt, Salted Butterscotch, and, for the more adventurous, Chipotle. Robin Bequet founded her artisanal company in 2001 and was featured on the Food Network in 2010 making her famous caramels. Visit the corporate outlet store in Bozeman, Montana for a wide array of tasty treats.
Beef, Buffalo, and Elk Snack Sticks – Preparing to head out for a hike in the wilderness or an afternoon in Yellowstone National Park? Chalet Market is a great pit-stop for picking up snack sticks and beef jerky that are made in-house. They are made in the back of the store by owner Gwen Croghan’s husband, Mark, using only USDA certified meat. A wonderful deli counter features specialty lunch meats, salads, and desserts. If that wasn’t enough, there are a wide variety of Montana specialty foods including wild huckleberry and chokecherry jams, jellies, and syrups. The Chalet Market has been fixture in southwest Montana for over 38 years. For one-stop food and gift shopping, this is definitely your go-to place in Belgrade, Montana.
Whiskey – When you think of the Wild west, open ranges and cowboys – Whiskey comes to mind. RoughStock Distillery opened its doors in 2005 in Bozeman and it’s the first distillery to open in the area in more than 100 years. Distiller and Founder of RoughStock, Bryan Schultz, has paved the way for others to follow suit. RoughStock has a tasting room where visitors can drop in and sample a few whiskeys, from their single malt whiskey to their bourbon-styled whiskey. Note that Montana law allows distilleries to serve only 2oz of tastings per person each day. For a comprehensive list of whiskey distilleries in Montana visit Sku’s L.A. Food and Whiskey Blog for locations.
Craft Beers – The art of craft beer brewing is big in Montana. Every year new breweries are dotting the landscape. In fact, there are 50 breweries across the state for visitors to go on the taste trail. Brown ales to light lagers blended with Montana huckleberry juice are available at the various breweries. At the North American Beer Awards, Montana breweries fared well, picking up gold, silver, and bronze medals. Start your tour by downloading the Beer Trail Map from the Montana Brewers Association. Notable breweries to put on your list are Great Northern Brewing Company, Whitefish; Blackfoot River Brewing Company, Helena; Red Lodge Ales Brewing Company, Red Lodge; and Philipsburg Brewing Company, Philipsburg.
Huckleberries – These plump little berries are very similar in colour and taste to blueberries, but these berries have a special place in the hearts of Montanans. You’ll find huckleberries in everything from beer and martinis, to pies, jams, and pancakes. It’s not just humans that love huckleberries either, about ⅓ of a grizzly bear’s diet is made up of the berries and they’ll often travel long distances to find them. Be careful to stick to approved berry picking areas to make sure you don’t make a grizzly bear grumpy! Huckleberries grow all over Montana and the growth season runs from late spring to late September. Keen to sample everything huckleberry then check out the Huckleberry Festival in Trout Lake, held every August.
Fish – Montana is blessed with an abundance of lakes and streams and freshwater fish are plentiful, such as Cutthroat Lake Trout, Whitefish, and Northern Pike. Spend the day fishing and catch your own to cook over the campfire or dine at one of the many restaurants dotting the Montana landscape. Try Bucks T-4, Big Sky; Ted’s Montana Grill, Bozeman; The Boat Club at The Lodge at Whitefish Lake, Whitefish; Bison Creek Ranch, East Glacier Park: and The Cafe Shack, Missoula.