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Pepperfest will bring its heat to Pittsboro this year. Here are festival details.

Pepperfest is moving to downtown Pittsboro for its 12th annual event.
Pepperfest is moving to downtown Pittsboro for its 12th annual event. jdjackson@newsobserver.com

For those who can take the heat, North Carolina’s Pepperfest is on the move.

The 12th annual Pepperfest, billed as the largest local food event in North Carolina, is heading to downtown Pittsboro.

Over the past decade, Pepperfest has grown from a few dozen spice enthusiasts sampling local peppers to a 3,000 attendee food festival, devoted to the sweet and the heat of the pepper world.

Pepperfest founder Tami Schwerin said the event had outgrown its longtime home within the Briar Chapel development in Chatham County and would move into the heart of Pittsboro this year.

“We’re going to close down the streets of Pittsboro,” Schwerin said. “We think this will be a really good and really right fit for the festival.”

Chatham County is exploding with development, and Schwerin said festival organizers wanted to ground the event in Pittsboro’s downtown to lend it a small town backdrop in the midst of growth and change in the rest of the county.

At its core, Schwerin said Pepperfest is about sustainability. Schwerin is also the executive director of the festival’s organizer, Abundance NC, which supports sustainable agricultural practices and operates an incubator for local food-centric businesses in Pittsboro.

“This is about the local food economy,” Schwerin said. “This started 12 years ago as an event to educate more people about the pepper. That it has more Vitamin C than a grapefruit; that you don’t need to ship that grapefruit in from South America. You can just eat a pepper grown right here in North Carolina.”

Something about the North Carolina climate appeals to the pepper, which grows in these soils with ease. More than anything, Pepperfest has evolved into a food festival, with dozens of local chefs and beverage makers showcasing the range of peppers. Each year chefs from Triangle restaurants compete to create the most popular dish highlighting local peppers.

This year’s judges are Ricky Moore of Saltbox Seafood; cookbook author Sheri Castle; host of “The Woodright’s Shop” on PBS, Roy Underhill; chef Whitney Dane of Honeysuckle Tea House; LaShauna Austria of Benevolence Farm and Andrea Rice of IndyWeek.

Pepperfest will be held Sept. 22 from 3 to 6 p.m. in downtown Pittsboro. Tickets are $30. To purchase tickets and to see a rundown of the chefs, breweries and artisans attending this year’s festival, visit pepperfestnc.org.

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Drew Jackson writes about restaurants and dining for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, covering the food scene in the Triangle and North Carolina.
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