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Kentucky’s Year of Food: Country Ham Calling

Kentucky’s Western Waterlands region abounds with artisan communities, diverse cuisine and beautiful lakeside views. Encircled by two of Kentucky’s largest lakes, Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area Lake is one of the state’s greatest natural treasures. Designated a UNESCO Creative City, Paducah carries a vibrant collection of art galleries and eateries that groups can explore along the Paducah Riverwalk and Lower Town Arts District. Twice each year, over 30,000 visitors converge in Paducah for QuiltWeek, a national fiber-art show hosted by the American Quilter’s Society.

Signature Flavors: During Kentucky’s earliest days as a state, nearly every farmer owned a smokehouse to hang and smoke ham. Today, western Kentucky carries on that legacy through award-winning country ham brands like Broadbent, Harper’s and Colonel Bill Newsom’s. Baked or fried ham is often paired with a side of homegrown vegetables like Silver Queen sweet corn or Kentucky Wonder green beans, an heirloom variety also known as pole beans.

Though few people would associate Kentucky with a tropical fruit like bananas, the little town of Fulton claims the title of Banana Capital of the World, hosting a banana festival each year in September. The highlight of the event is a one-ton banana pudding that serves up to 3,000 people.

Great Group Restaurants: Housed inside a historic railway depot, the Freight House is Paducah’s first farm-to-table restaurant, featuring locally sourced meats, garden produce and craft beers. Patrons can acquire a sense of regional cuisine with offerings such as Kentucky blue snapper, cold smoked beets, braised pork shoulder and almond amaretto pound cake.

Must-See Attractions: Paducah’s National Quilt Museum is well worth the visit, displaying some of the finest fiber art in the world. Groups can arrange a private tour and a guided quilting workshop, allowing guests to take home their own creations. Hotel Metropolitan is a wonderful hidden gem. During the 1900s, the shotgun house served as the only African-American hotel in the region, accommodating renowned figures such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. Anyone traveling through the Land Between the Lakes region can take a short day trip to Marion to browse colorful handcrafted products made by local Amish families.