Biltmore is the largest private home in the United States. At 1,400 square feet, my apartment can fit into Biltmore 127 times over. (Yikes!) The house, built in the late 1800s, was designed for entertaining, hosting dinner parties on a jaw-dropping scale.
The dining room boasts a triple fireplace, towering ceilings, large game hanging from the upper walls and impressed even the uber-rich. Some factoids:
- According to one curator, the current staff never opened the dining room table all the way. They’re not sure how long it is.
- The game, stuffed and mounted on the upper walls, was mostly purchased for the room. Apparently George W. Vanderbilt wasn’t into hunting big game, although he did go on hunting trips regularly ,with friends on the property
- The Vanderbilts frequently served seven-course meals. Guests often walked the grounds after said meals, presumably to aid digestion.
- The largest dinner party hosted at Biltmore was for 52 people. The largest fete was for 2,500; a breakfast hosted the day after daughter Cornelia’s wedding.
- There was a kitchen staff of 12 full-time employees under the head chef to keep everyone fed, that didn’t include butlers and servants.
10 Details for a Vanderbilt Dinner Party
I have to confess I completely geeked out over the lavishness of it all, and will soon throw a dinner party with Biltmore touches. I looked through the book Biltmore Traditions which includes recipes and a brief history of the estate and we recommend the following touches for a dinner party with the Biltmore theme [Amazon link].
When construction began, Biltmore was in the boonies, and GW Vanderbilt made sure the estate had extensive farming on the 125,000-acre property. There was a full working dairy, extensive vegetable gardens and they raised most of their meat.
Due to food production on the property the Vanderbilts ate seasonally, enjoying only the freshest food available. When planning your dinner party think seasonally and show it off on the plate.
The Vanderbilts traveled extensively always going first class and enjoying the best the world had to offer. They often incorporated international touches to their menus, and particularly enjoyed Italian food. Consider your favorite flavor profiles as you pull together your menu.
Yes, seven courses, they were extensive, and no doubt those guests needed to walk on the grounds afterward to ward off indigestion. Here’s a sample menu from the Biltmore Traditions book. A sherbet would be served at some point during the meal for a seventh course.
- Chicken Jumbo
- Boiled Bass
- Turkey Croquettes with peas
- Roast duck with applesauce, fruit hominy, and spinach
- Egg Salad and cheese straws
- Frozen creams and cake
The Vanderbilts were connoisseurs of wine, GW’s grandson established a vineyard and winery on the estate in 1971. Biltmore shipped most of its wine in from Europe. Each course paired with the appropriate varietal and perhaps port for the desserts.
Candlelight and low decor
Candlelight is always flattering from the candelabra overhead to votives on the long table. So guests could fully enjoy the evening, everything was low on the table so guests could converse across the table as well as to the side.
The primary Biltmore pattern is flashy with an ornate floral design and hints of gilt. If you want to impress, go bold with your pattern, and leave the simple plates for the kitchen staff.
Guests did their best to match the grandeur of dinner by dressing to the nines. Women dripped in jewelry and evening gowns while men donned tuxedos and house suits. All with impeccable manners.
Over a dozen kitchen staff, plus butlers, and other servants the Vanderbilts never lifted a hand unless to give a toast. You can not pull of a dinner party of such proportions without a lot of help. In today’s world, look for a caterer or in-kitchen chef, a server, and a bartender to assist with your feast.
While the Vanderbilts enjoyed hosting their close friends and family often, larger occasions saw a rotating guest list of the highest echelons of society. Why not give a small gift as a reminder of their wonderful stay at Biltmore. Perhaps a small jar of local honey or jam, an engraved goblet, or a silver corkscrew.
Are you ready to host a seven-course Biltmore dinner party in your home complete with all these details? I am! We’ll be planning something for early fall and will give full details from napkin folding to wine pairings. Have you ever hosted a lavish dinner party? What details did you and your guests like best?