At one time, the Santa Cruz River supported the country’s earliest large-scale agriculture, and Tucson and Marana have been bustling with life for thousands of years.
This history of food and culture gained the region UNESCO City of Gastronomy and Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area designations.
Marana has a deep history of food, and the Marana Gastronomy Tour will return for its fourth year to help people learn about the ancient foodways of the area and flavors of the southwest.
The event was created in 2017 by Discover Marana, the official travel planning resource for the town. Laura Cortelyou, the Town of Marana Tourism and Marketing Manager, said a gastronomy tour was the perfect way to share the region’s mix of agriculture, archaeology and wild foods-inspired food and beer scene.
“It really came from realizing if we had a tour that connected the dots between ancient archaeology sites in Marana and what’s happening currently that it would create a very interesting, immersive experience for people who want to learn much more about the thousands of years of history here in the greater Tucson area,” Cortelyou said.
The tour pairs archaeology experts with local eateries and breweries with emphasis on local ingredients and quality.
The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain is one of the centerpieces of the tour, and was chosen because of its priority on using ingredients sourced as locally as possible.
“It’s such a treat to taste how modern chefs are coming from these traditions with an emphasis on flavor and sense of place and every single ingredient added to this incredible product that can only occur that season, that place, that year,” Cortelyou said. “They are the best interpreters of wild foods that we still have today and ancient cultivated foods like tepary beans.”
The tour will also feature two Marana breweries who both feature beers with traditional Sonoran Desert ingredients, Button Brew House and Catalina Brewing Company.
“There’s nowhere else in the world you could go and almost right next door to each other taste two different Chiltepín beers,” Cortelyou said. “It’s only because of the experts we have here and adventurous, risk-taking master brewers willing to create beer no one’s ever had before that this is all possible.”
This year’s program features two tours exploring ancient foodways at archaeological sites and “contemporary and wild food tastings.”
The Marana Gastronomy Tour will include a guided archaeology tour led by Allen Denoyer, a preservation archaeologist at Archaeology Southwest. Denoyer was part of the excavation team of the Las Capas archaeology site, the oldest agricultural irrigation canal system found in the U.S., which was discovered in Marana in 2009.
The tour will pick up guests at the Tucson Premium Outlets mall and take them through the Los Morteros Conservation Area, the site of a large Native American village that was inhabited between about A.D. 850 and 1300, and an ancient Hohokam farm site.
After learning about the history of their food, tour participants will try modern examples of some of these types of food at a multi-course small plates tasting at The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, presented by executive chef Emily Dillport.
This tour is facilitated by Gray Line Tours, a local tour company that’s been in business for 100 years in Tucson.
The A Taste of the Wild: The Marana Wild Foods Gastronomy Tour also leads the group through the Las Capas site for a lesson in ancient foodways, but will delve into the large variety of over 400 edible foods that can be found in the wilds of the Sonoran Desert.
Carolyn Niethammer, one of the most prominent Sonoran wild foods cookbook authors, will lead guests in a forging exercise where they will step into the shoes of the ancient people who once called the region home and forage for edible plants.
This tour ends with food tastings of gourmet foods from Bean Tree Farm and craft beer from Button Brew House or Catalina Brewing Company.
The Marana Gastronomy Tours are the first tours approved by UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, and will continue to serve as an introduction to the region’s flavors and ancient people.
Both tours have limited space and require reservations.
The Marana Gastronomy Tour takes place on Feb. 28, March 20 and April 10 from 12:30 to 6 p.m. The tour includes walking so be sure to dress appropriately. The tour costs $109 per person and reservations can be made by visiting graylinearizona.com. Call Gray Line at 622-8811 for more information.
A Taste of the Wild: The Marana Wild Foods Gastronomy Tour takes place March 13 from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. This tour is a car caravan and costs $65 per person. Reservations can be made at discovermarana.org/gastronomy-tour.Call the Marana Parks and Recreation Department at 382-3496 for more information.
For more information on the tour, visit www.discovermarana.org/gastronomy-tour.