Thursday September 20, 2012

DALTON -- For those of you who read this column and aren't familiar with my day job, I'm the education reporter for The Eagle, and I really like to learn.

At night, particularly when I'm looking for fodder to fill the belly of Berkshires After Dark, I relish the opportunity to indulge in both education and entertainment opportunities -- be they a trivia night, dance class or tasting dinner.

It was with great fortune on Tuesday that I spied a tweet from Kelly's Package Store in Dalton -- it had two cancellations for its wine and cheese class. At $10 per person, I couldn't pass it up.

So with my leading man, Lawrence of Dublin, at my side, we imbibed in some classic and contemporary comestibles from France from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

We tried seven flavorful yet value-priced wines, which retailed at a range between $7.99 (a 2011 Chateau Chauvet Bourdeaux Blanc) and $12.99 (a 2011 Willm Pinot Gris from Alsace). They were paired with six French artisan cheeses of varying softness, rinds and milk content and a fig and almond cake.

All of the above were explained with good humor and professional knowledge by Kelly's certified specialist of wine, Kollin Kozlowski, and "hombre de queso" or cheese guy Jason Kelly (no relation to the owners).

I also enjoyed the surprise of company from friends I didn't know who had signed up for Kelly's four-part wine class series, which runs Tuesday nights through Oct. 2.

Overall, I'd give this class a rating of four out of five mugs.

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While tasting I began thinking of where else and how else I could learn about food and drink after dark, or at least after 6 p.m.

For one, Kelly's has an Italian master wine class coming up on Oct. 6 and a craft beer class series starting Oct. 9. The store is also teaming up with Cranwell Resort to host a benefit wine and food pairing event for Moments House cancer support center on Oct. 20 ($30 per person).

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On Sept. 29, from 5 to 8 p.m., REACT, Berkshire County's Real Estate Agent's Charitable Task Force, will hold its second annual Chili Cook-off to benefit Habitat for Humanity. Attendees can taste different kinds of chilis and pick the winner at the American Legion in Pittsfield. Tickets are $10 per adult.

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Berkshire Community College offers a host of upcoming evening culinary workshops like a two-hour class on wines of France and Italy on Oct. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Nejaime's in Great Barrington (formerly Grape Finds) for $20.

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Dream Away Lodge in Becket announced a "Save the Date" this week for a special Corzo Tequila Dinner on Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m., with more details to come.

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Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield will offer its annual "Shaker Suppers" on Oct. 26 and Nov. 24 at $65 per person. It begins with a guided tour at 4 p.m. with interpreters dressed in period attire. A cider and cheese reception in the kitchen of the Brick Dwelling (beer and wine available for purchase) follows, then dinner is served by candlelight in the Believers' Dining Room. A brief program of Shaker music completes the evening.

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On Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., check out the annual Williamstown Pie Contest at Sheep Hill on Route 7. Bakers are challenged to celebrate the harvest season by making pies featuring locally grown and produced ingredients. A $3 donation is requested. If the harvest moon is full, a group hike will follow.

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Of course, this is only a sampling of ways you can learn more about food and libations. Many other local restaurants offer more informal approaches to tasting, like wine and beer flights, and are often happy to arrange private group tastings or classes for groups. Berkshire wineries, package and spirit stores regularly offer weekend tastings during the day, so check in with them often.

Places like Williamsville Inn in West Stockbridge offer a great selection of culinary courses to the public, but most classes are filled the rest of this year and into early 2013. The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown has a new state-of-the-art kitchen to offer its members hands-on cooking courses, like the "Theory and Practice of Chinese Dump lings" course offered on Sat ur day afternoons this fall (this Saturday and again Oct. 6). Gina Hyams and The Meat Market will host a chili contest and tasting from 4 to 6 p.m. on Oct. 7 in Great Bar rington to benefit Berk shire Grown's Share the Bounty project. The Junior League of Berkshire County will host its fifth annual Taste of the Berk shires event on Nov. 1 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Masonic Temple in Pittsfield.

If you hear of, or are hosting any more offerings, let me know at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com or (413) 496-6239.