Photograph by Daniel R. Westergren

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Sena Nielson enjoys her hot chocolate on a cold winter day in Bozeman, Montana.

Photograph by Daniel R. Westergren

Best of Montana in Winter: Food and Drink

Find out where to get the best chocolate, wild game, coffee, beer, and more with this list of the top culinary experiences to have in Montana.

Cocoa and Cannelés at La Châtelaine Chocolat, Bozeman

Native Parisian Wlady Grochowski and his Montana State graduate wife, Shannon, handcraft artisan European chocolates year-round in their downtown Bozeman chocolaterie. But in winter, it’s the La Châtelaine Chocolat Co.’s cozy Cocoa Bar that entices passersby to stop in and warm up.

“Wlady and I wanted to create a space for people to sit and linger over our steaming hot chocolate,” says Shannon, who calls the preparation of each cup “a labor of love.” More elixir than cocoa, La Châtelaine’s bittersweet, dark hot chocolate is concocted from a brut cocoa, Peruvian chocolate, and spice base blended with milk. The rich liquid then is poured into a mug or café au lait bowl, and topped with fresh whipping cream and homemade marshmallows. Shannon invites visitors to pair the hot chocolate with a quintessentially Parisian treat—cannelés. These petite rum custard cakes are baked in fluted, copper molds the couple collects in Paris. No worries if you don’t save room for any actual chocolates. Buy some to eat later, and, if you bring the recyclable candy box back for a refill, you’ll be rewarded with two free chocolates.

Wild Game Dinner, Buck’s T-4 Lodging & Dining, Big Sky

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Buck’s began as a hunting camp back in 1946. Today, the steak house that specializes in wild game gives diners a true taste of Montana’s wild side. Chef Chuck Schommer pairs down home cooking with classic culinary technique. The hands-down local favorite is red deer cut from the loin, pan-seared, and presented with a decadent port wine butter sauce and truffle risotto. Another popular dish is bison tenderloin with onion straws and garlic mashed potatoes.

Regulars know, however, that there’s probably a little wiggle room in the menu, if you just ask. “Locals like to make their own little modifications to menu items,” says Buck’s owner and general manager, David O’Connor, “like seared foie gras on a cheeseburger.” Buck's house-cured duck bacon is sold in local markets and can be shipped elsewhere.

Montana Coffee Traders, Whitefish

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Montana Coffee Traders has been roasting coffee for locals in the Flathead Valley since 1981. The roastery, located in an old farmhouse on Highway 93 in Whitefish, is open for tours and tastings. A cozier place to sip a cup of one of their signature blends (like Grizzly, Glacier, Buffalo, and Whitefish Farmers Market) is downtown at the Montana Coffee Traders Whitefish Coffeehouse.

“Our downtown store still is very much a warm and friendly local spot where visitors can come in to warm up, hang out, and chat with people who live in the area,” says Montana Coffee Traders general manager Heather Vrentas. While there, try a house-specialty bocadillo, a hot and savory stuffed tortilla grilled on a panini press. The filling choices, including Mission Mountain eggs, Montana-made tofu, and farm-to-market pork, are all fresh and locally sourced. And since each bocadillo is cut in half and wrapped in foil, it’s the perfect portable hot lunch for anyone who can’t wait to get back out in the snow.

Sleigh Ride Dinner, Lone Mountain Ranch, Big Sky

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Clip-clopping through a snow-covered forest is the obvious attraction of any sleigh ride supper excursion. What sets the Lone Mountain Ranch experience apart from others, however, is the actual dinner at the end of the ride. Inside a remote North Fork cabin, local cowboy singers and songwriters entertain as guests dine by the light of kerosene lanterns. The homemade fare—honey wheat molasses rolls, soup of the day, prime rib, roasted potatoes, house vegetables, forestiere mushrooms (with bacon, garlic, and onions), and cobbler—is served family-style. Adding to the Old West flavor, each dish is prepared on a 125-year-old Monarch wood cook stove formerly used on the old Burlington Northern Railroad. Says part-time Big Sky resident and frequent sleigh ride dinner guest Sara Pfaff, “The environment of the cabin infuses the food to create the perfect experience.”

Brewery Walking Tour, Billings

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Sip and nosh your way along the state’s only Brewery Walking Tour. The 1.5-mile downtown loop is an easy walk—provided you’re dressed for the weather—and includes potential warm-up stops at six different breweries and one microdistillery.

“The brewery tour is a snapshot of what Billings has to offer: local made products, authentic Montanan cuisine, and cultural attractions showcasing our history,” says Billings native Kelly McCandless, leisure sales manager for Billings’ Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Most breweries are open for tastings from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Some feature special events like open mic nights and live music, and a couple offer full menus. McCandless suggests starting at Billings’ original microbrewery, Angry Hank’s, a converted oil and lube station where the ales on tap typically include Anger Management Belgian-Style Wheat and Head Trauma IPA. From there, make another taproom stop or two before finishing up with a leisurely dinner—and coffee—at the Montana Brewing Company.