5 Bites from Chicago's Hit Foodie Event, Pastoral's Artisan Producer Festival

Second annual festival features small-batch, artisan foods

Brian Fredericksen of Ames Honey will be at the second Pastoral Artisan Festival on April 28.

Locavores, rejoice: Chicago's second Pastoral Artisan Festival is back with more producers, more local bites, and best of all — it's free.

The Pastoral Artisan Festival, set for April 28, began one year ago with Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine's founder Greg O'Neill and Ken Miller, a local and food artisan in Chicago's French market. The festival, O'Neill said, was a natural outgrowth of Pastoral's success — the pair wanted to make an event that celebrated producers. "People want to know where their food is coming from," O'Neill said, who takes the Pastoral team across the country to check out food producers, like cheesemakers in nearby Wisconsin. "By meeting the people who make thier food, who see the hard work and toil that goes into making these delicious things, you can have a greater appreciation of what you're consuming."

At the festival, foodies can meet the producers firsthand and learn how they make their cheese, honey, wine, or other yummy treats. Last year's festival had 40 producers; this year's fest has nearly 80 producers from both the U.S. and abroad. 

The Daily Meal got the inside scoop on which small-batch foods festival-goers had to taste; though he claims that choosing favorites was like "Sophie's Choice — they're all my babies," he raved about certain producers. Be sure to hit up the following stands next weekend:

• Marcoot Jersey Cheesery, from Illinois: The cheesery is a cow's milk producer that O'Neill and the team at Pastoral are crazy about, he says.

• Cypress Grove Chevre, from California: O'Neill was excited about the influx of West Coast producers this year, including this goat cheesery.

• Koval Distillery and Valentine Vodka, from Illinois and Michigan, respectively: Spirits are a huge draw at the festival, said O'Neill, and these two Midwestern spirits companies are a big part of it. Taste a white or aged whiskey from Chicago's Koval, and smooth vodka from Valentine.

• Castleton Crackers, from Vermont: Don't skip over the packaged foods, O'Neill says: these handmade crackers are made with all-natural ingredients.

• Savini Tartufi, Calvisius, and Mieli Thun, from Italy: These three producers travel the furthest distance to the festival, and bring with them the most delicious specialities: truffle oil, caviar, and honey. You won't find these anywhere else.

Check the full list of producers and event details at the Pastoral web site; also on tap for Chicago's weekend of food? Cochon 555.