Oct 11, 2008

Big Island, Hawaii: Culinary Tourism

vanilla beanThe Big Island Farm Bureau has teamed up with local farmers to create Hawaii AgVentures—a way to learn about and sample the diverse tastes and agricultural splendors of Hawaii Island. Visit farms that grow lavendar, vanilla, bananas, macadamia nuts, cacao beans, and more. Talk to an orchid grower, learn how to make a lei, explore cattle ranches or coffee plantations. Sample tropical fruit wines where they’re produced. Enjoy a BBQ dinner with a cattle-ranching family, or do a tea tasting of island-grown Camellia sinensis.

Group tours include Chocolate Treats & Tropical Temptations (Kona Joe coffee plantation, Original Hawaii Chocolate Factory); Pele’s Bounty (Kalapana Tropicals orchid nursery, Hilo Coffee Mill, Green Point Nursery; Mauka to Makai (Parker Ranch, Honopua Farm, Merriman's Restaurant, and the Natural Energy Lab of Hawaii, whose research includes the farming of abalone and lobsters); and Taste of Kamuela (Waimea Homestead Farmers Market, Honopua Farm, a Hawaiian lunch and hula, Kahua Ranch).

Hawaii AgVentures can also assist you in putting together an itinerary for solo visits targeted to your specific interests. Some farms and other sites are open to the public, but others are available only by appointment. Among the many interesting sites:

cacao beanThe Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory produces the only 100% Hawaiian chocolate on the planet—grown, harvested, processed, and packaged right on the Big Island. Cacao beans are grown on volcanic soil in a 6-acre, 1300-tree orchard surrounding the owner's Kona Coast home. After cacoa pods are harvested, the beans are removed, fermented, dried on racks for up to 28 days, and then roasted. From there the resultant cocoa nibs are combined with cocoa butter and other ingredients to produce chocolate.

Hawaiian Vanilla Company cultivates, hand-pollinates, and distributes Hawaiian vanilla on the Hamakua Coast (the in-depth presentation on how vanilla orchids are grown and laboriously pollinated is fascinating). A gallery and gift shop are on site, and you can indulge in various repasts, from an upcountry tea brunch to a gourmet four-course luncheon.

The Kona Coffee Belt is a must for java-lovers. This narrow stretch of land on the western slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai, about 2 miles wide, runs parallel to the ocean and contains more than 700 Kona coffee farms. Many are open to visitors, offering a chance to learn how coffee is hand-picked and roasted. At the Kona Coffee Living History Farm you’ll stroll through coffee and macadamia nut orchards and tour an historic farmhouse, while costumed interpreters answer questions about the daily lives of early 20th century Japanese coffee farmers. Or visit East Hawaii, which once boasted 6,000 acres of coffee. Now the area’s Hilo Coffee Mill is giving those local coffees—100% Ka'u, Hamakua, and Puna varieties—a new life.

Volcano Island HoneyThe honey produced by Volcano Island Honey Company (VIHC) has been called “a miracle” and “some of the best honey in the entire world” by celebrated figures of the culinary world. The rare Hawaiian organic white honey is derived from a unique forest of Klawe trees.

For more info on Hawaii AgVenture group and personalized tours, visit their site. To learn more about what to see and do on the Big Island, visit my honeymoon travel website.

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