Explore Europe Through Food Festivals

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Many of Europe’s best local traditions are based in food, with every country and region offering something different. With so many local specialties shaped by regional flavors and climates, historical traditions stemming from feasts and symbolic culinary gestures, and innovative food and beverages in European capitals, the Continent offers several food festivals for everyone to enjoy. From everyday indulgences such as cheese and bread to Christmastime treats, here are five food festivals not to miss in Europe: 
Gruyères, Switzerland: Gruyère Cheese Festival

In green pastures high up in the Swiss Alps, cows graze on grass fertilized by the region’s ample rainfall and rich soil. The flavorful grass imparts its unique taste into the cows’ milk used to make world-famous cheeses such as Gruyère, which has AOP (protected designation of origin) status in the French-speaking region. A hard cheese with a mellow, nutty flavor and superb meltability, Gruyère is used in Swiss specialties such as cheese fondue and Alpine macaroni. When the Gruyère Cheese Festival, held annually on the first Sunday in May, takes over its namesake Alpine town, festivalgoers can sample these dishes, see the cheese being made, listen to traditional music, view art, and shop for artisanal products. Entry is free. For more information, visit www.la-gruyere.ch

Lisbon, Portugal: Feast of St. Anthony/Sardine Festival

St. Anthony of Padua isn’t the patron saint of Lisbon, but the city throws him a big party anyway on his annual feast day of June 12. Complete with a parade, music, food, and dancing until dawn, the St. Anthony Festival – also known as the Sardine Festival – is Lisbon’s wildest night out. The event serves up grilled sardines with salt and boiled potatoes as the festival’s main dish, drawing thousands of partiers to the streets. Eat the fish at one of the ubiquitous picnic tables set up outside or, if it’s too crowded, simply put the sardines on a piece of bread and eat it standing. Locals wash it all down with vinho verde (a Portuguese green wine), sangria or beer. Free admission.

Paris, France: Fete du Pain (Bread Festival)

No food symbolizes France more than the baguette, whether eaten as a vehicle for cheese or as a simple snack with jam or butter. In both rural and urban areas, bakeries are a staple of French life, with millions of French residents shopping at their local bakeries daily. Paris’ Fete du Pain celebrates baguettes and all other French breads, including brioche and croissants, at a weeklong event in May in the plaza outside the Notre Dame cathedral. Step into the massive outdoor tent and you’re greeted with the smell of freshly baked bread, which you can buy and munch on as you wander through the festival. A national baguette-baking competition, demonstrations, and opportunities to purchase all kinds of breads make this event a carb lover’s dream. For more information, visit www.fetedupain.com 

Dresden, Germany: Stollen Festival

Every year on the Saturday before the second Sunday of Advent, people gather in Dresden’s Christmas market in anticipation. The crowds aren’t waiting for Santa Claus just yet, though – they’ve arrived to see the giant stollen cake, which arrives in a processional via horse and carriage and is presented by the Stollen Princess. A fruitcake containing nuts, candied fruit, and spices and covered in powdered sugar, stollen dates back to the medieval era, when bakers would present Saxon lords with the cake at Christmas. The giant version was first created in 1730, when Augustus II the Strong commissioned a cake big enough to feed everyone in Dresden; the modern giant stollen weighs between 3 and 4 tons and has to be cut with a 1.6-meter-long knife. Visitors can sample a piece of stollen along with a glass of hot glühwein while shopping for Christmas gifts. Entry is free. For more information, visit www.dresdnerstollen.com

Amsterdam, Netherlands: Taste of Amsterdam

Two dozen of Amsterdam’s restaurants set up shop at Taste of Amsterdam, a four-day summertime event in Amstelpark, the city’s largest park. Gourmet chefs offer sample-size versions of their most popular entrées so that guests can arrive hungry and taste more than 100 of the Dutch capital’s finest dishes. Cuisine ranges from Dutch to foreign, including BBQ and burgers. A local products market has samples of Dutch cheeses and other foodstuffs to eat onsite or take home. Of course, there are also both alcoholic and nonalcoholic craft beverages, desserts, and even a pool. No charge for admission. For more information, visit www.tasteofamsterdam.com  — Elaine Murphy

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