This time of year, it’s easy to love Oregon’s food scene. Farmers markets—seemingly everywhere, every day—overflow. Restaurants that make Northwest crops their religion (or at least their business model) glory in the bounty from our fields and orchards. A short drive from Portland in just about any direction leads to a sweet apple grove or a vineyard gearing up for crush. In this special feature, we celebrate all that seasonal splendor. But we also meet some of the adventurous farmers and high-craft entrepreneurs who create the products and projects that drive Oregon food. We see how global trends influence what grows here (Korea is obsessed with our blueberries). And we check in on some of the ideas and issues that will shape our culinary landscape in the years to come.
A is for Ancient Heritage Dairy: The state’s most old-school cheese operation goes urban.
B is for Bacon: We round up our four favorite locally made strips for the ultimate DIY brunch:
From top to bottom:
Laurelhurst Market Irish Bacon
This relative of Canadian bacon (a.k.a. pork loin) comes with a slice of fatback attached. It’s not as fatty or salty as belly bacon, and has a slightly toasted quality.
Textbook belly bacon; super smoky, fruity, and juicy
Tails & Trotters Bacon
Thick-cut, hazelnut-finished pork, cured with a clove-nutmeg-cinnamon mix, aged for two to six weeks for a deeply porky, umami-rich, almost herbal flavor
Pono Farms Jowl Bacon
Marvelously fatty, praline-sweet cheek bacon, soaked in a brown sugar brine for two weeks and smoked over cherry or apple wood
C is for Cider Boom: Introducing four new local heroes in the hard-cider revolution
Swift Cider’s CTZ Pineapple Dank Hop: Formerly sold as OutCider, Aidan Currie’s Northeast Portland cidery returns with a small but mighty line of cold-fermented, unfiltered, and unpasteurized hard ciders. This dry-hopped offering blends CTZ hops and organic pineapple juice to please even the most die-hard beer devotees.
Cider Riot!’s BurnCider: If you find most American-made ciders a bit too sweet, check out Abram Goldman-Armstrong’s offerings, inspired by the bone-dry ciders of England’s West Country, using Oregon-grown traditional English cider varietals and mouth-puckering wild apples.
Alter Ego Cider Original Off-Dry: Fermented by seasoned winemakers Anne Hubatch and Nate Wall at Southeast Portland’s new urban winery Coopers Hall, Alter Ego’s flagship off-dry cider has a touch of sweetness and tons of Northwest character.
Reverend Nat’s The Passion: Nat West is the king of blending traditional ciders with experimental flavors, from hops and apricots to ginger. Here, the Reverend adds a hefty dose of passion fruit for a tropical punch in the mouth.
D is for DeNoble: Tom DeNoble explains how DeNoble Farms, his Portland Farmers Market mainstay known for its Italian artichokes and addictive carrots (really!), stands out:
“The soil in Tillamook hadn’t been row-cropped for years. It was dairy, and between all those cows and the river floods, we have amazing soil. And then, 70 percent of everything we sell is harvested by me, my wife, or my kids. We’ve figured out how to pick at the height of flavor for the market. Being on the coast, where the salt water meets freshwater and a cool fog belt often comes in on really hot days, we often have flavors and varieties that no one else has.”
E is for Elder Hall: Ned Ludd chef Jason French raised more than $60,000 on Kickstarter to fund a communal food hall behind his Northeast Portland restaurant. Elder Hall will serve as a space for meetings, lectures, tastings, intimate dinners, raucous parties, and teaching events, all focused on Portland’s farm-to-table and artisan-infused culinary culture. A full commercial kitchen also is in the works, along with food-centric children’s summer camps, butchery and cooking classes, and a series of “small suppers” that showcase local foodie talent. “There are a lot of event spaces in Portland,” French says, “but not many have a full kitchen and an attached chef.”
& also for Exports: About a decade ago, South Korea went blueberry crazy. “It was a country that embraced healthy food early, and really keyed in on blueberries,” recalls Bryan Ostlund of the Oregon Blueberry Commission. “In Seoul, McDonald’s had to have blueberry pie.” Naturally, America’s biggest blueberry-growing state wanted in on the action. Years of negotiations over crop safety later, Oregon became the only state allowed to export fresh blueberries to South Korea. Launched in 2012, this niche trade could send1.5 million pounds of Oregon berries to Korea in 2014, feeding that country’s antioxidant fascination. “It’s crazy-cool to see,” says Ostlund. “Blueberry skin cream, blueberry pet food, blueberry everything.” Possible future targets? The Philippines, Vietnam, Australia, and China.
F is for Finex: The Portland-made octagonal cast-iron skillet sizzled from crowd-funding to a 4,000-square-foot Northwest fabrication facility. “People have an emotional connection with cast iron’s heritage,” says CEO Ron Khormaei, “but they don’t want something that looks like it came off the Oregon Trail. This allows them to have a totally modern heirloom.” An eight-inch model joins the 12-inch original this fall.
G is for GMO Battles: Last October, Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a law limiting local governments’ ability to regulate seeds, meaning any future policies on genetically modified crops must be made at the state level. Exception: Jackson County had already scheduled a spring vote on a GMO ban—which then swept to victory with 66 percent in favor. A governor’s task force is crafting statewide legislation for debate in 2015. But voters’ apparent furor over the issue may yet prevail: 150,000 petition signatures mean an expensive November election fight over an initiative that would require labeling of GMO products in the state.
& also for Goat Therapy (It's a thing!) "It’s a dichotomy: urban life meets a farm-ish sanctuary,” says Christopher Frankonis, co-owner of The Belmont Goats. “A visit to the goats makes a good day better, or a crappy day bearable.”
H is for Hazelnuts: China’s blossoming love for salted-nut snack packs—can you blame them?—means torrid times for one of Oregon’s iconic crops: Over the past five years farmers planted a combined 15,000 new acres of the nut also known as the filbert. At Oregon State University, the world’s preeminent hazelnut breeding program continues to churn out high-yield strains resistant to disease and fit for the Willamette Valley’s soil and climate.
& also for Hotshots—Introducing a handful of upstart food companies making waves at Portland area farmers market this season—and where to find them.
I is for Industry: Oregon agriculture encompasses small farms, big business, microharvests, and commodity crops.
←J is for Jacobsen: How many artisan products can Ben Jacobsen, Portland’s wildly successful salt tycoon, churn out of the Pacific Ocean? His company’s latest, sparkling mineral water, is made from evaporated seawater, reconstituted with minerals from the salt-making process, and carbonated. “We are shooting for the sweet spot between German Gerolsteiner and Italian San Pellegrino,” Jacobsen says. Jacobsen’s water is crisp, refreshing, and—although he says this is impossible—distinctly briny, like an oyster. $3.50 at Zupan’s Markets
→K is for Kombucha: Make your gut hapy with these five fermented phenoms we're loving this month!