North Olympic Peninsula Urban Foraging

December 31, 2013

The Olympic Peninsula is home to abundant natural beauty–the Hoh rainforest, the Olympic mountains, the Pacific coast. It is also home to a sort of agrarian renaissance, with an impressive diversity of farms, from livestock to orchards to vineyards.

Here are a few notable spots between Chimacum and Port Angeles on the north peninsula:

Chimacum Corner Farmstand
Awesome farm stand and natural foods store with a heavy focus on local farmers and producers. They have a full selection of fresh, frozen, and dry goods as well as beer and wine. On Sundays they host the Chimacum Farmer’s Market. (9122 Rhody Drive Chimacum, Open Daily, 360.732.0107)

Chimacum Farmers’ Market
Small market with a nice selection of vendors to cover all the basics: produce, meat, dairy, and bread. With food carts and live music every week, this is a sweet spot on a Sunday. (Chimacum Corner Farmstand, Sundays, June – October)

Port Townsend Farmers’ Market
An awesome market for a small town: all the food groups are covered, plus great prepared foods, body products, crafts, and live music. (Tyler St between Lawrence St & Clay St Port Townsend, Sundays, April – December)

Get-a-bles
This store has a nice collection of local goods, plus knickknacks and crafty-type things. Stop in here for picnic provisions before a hike or boat outing. (810 Water St Port Townsend, Open Daily, 360.385.5560)

Cidery Tasting Rooms
There are two cider makers in Port Townsend, Alpenfire and Eaglemount, that comprise a nascent community that is small (for now) but scrappy, endearing, and personable. Their tasting rooms are not the sleek, well-appointed tasting rooms of established Washington wineries, but the people pouring your tastes are the same people who are tending the orchards and working the cider press. For example, after you’ve sampled the ciders and chatted with the farmers, they might leave to hop on a tractor and move some rocks (or any other number of tasks essential to producing great cider).

Eaglemount Wine and Cider
(2350 Eaglemount Road Port Townsend, Seasonal hours or by appointment, 360.732.4084)

Alpenfire Cidery
The tasting room at Alpenfire is charming and adorable. On some days they’re offering pizza from the outdoor wood fired grill.  Alpenfire also produces a couple of apple cider vinegars. (220 Pocket Lane Port Townsend, Friday – Sunday, 360. 379.8915)

Nash’s Organic Produce
Nash’s is an awesome farm-sourced grocery store with a full range of fresh, frozen, and pantry items, lots of local products, and great produce, much of which comes from their 450-acre working farm. Nash’s raises organic veggies, fruits, grains, seeds, and pastured eggs and pork. (4681 Sequim-Dungeness Way Sequim, Tuesday – Sunday, 360.681.6274)

Alder Wood Bistro
The most notable restaurant on the north peninsula. Alder Wood Bistro is so serious about locality and seasonality that they designate menu items by proximity: local (Sequim-Dungeness Valley), 100-mile radius, and regional (WA, OR, CA or BC). Just as importantly, the food is solid. (139 W Alder St Sequim, Tuesday – Saturday dinner, 360.683.4321)

Additional North Olympic Peninsula resources:

Port Townsend
Port Townsend Food Co-op
414 Kearny St
Open Daily
T: 360.385.2883

Aldrich’s Market
940 Lawrence St
Open Daily
T: 360.385.0500

Sequim
Sequim Open Aire Market
Cedar Street, between 2nd Ave & Sequim Ave
Saturdays, May – October

The Red Rooster Grocery
134 1/2 W Washington St
Open Daily
T: 360.681.2004

Port Angeles
Port Angeles Farmers’ Market
Corner of Front St & Lincoln St
Saturdays, Year-round

Country Aire Natural Foods
200 W 1st St
Open Daily
T: 360.452.7175

Good To Go! Natural Grocery
1105 S Eunice St
Monday – Saturday
T: 360.457.1857

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Willamette Valley Urban Foraging

December 31, 2013

If you’re driving through the Willamette Valley wine country between Portland and McMinnville on Highway 99, these are good shops to fill your picnic basket or fortify your wine tasting tour.

Beaverton Farmers’ Market
A huge, diverse market, easily twice the size of an average farmers’ market.
(SW Hall Blvd between 3rd & 5th Sts, Beaverton, Saturdays, May – November)

Red Hills Market
A nice little deli-type market with a menu of cafe style offerings plus cheese, wine, spirits and anything else you might need for a picnic, much of which is sourced locally. (155 SW 7th St, Dundee, Open Daily, 971.832.8414)

Fino in Fondo
Fino in Fondo is primarily a salumi producer, but their small retail shop also has cheese, charcuterie, and a few pantry items. This is not a locally focused shop, but their stock is quality. (777 NE 4th St, McMinnville, Tue – Sat, 503.687.1652)

Harvest Fresh
Natural foods store with all the trimmings: bulk section, deli & prepared foods, supplements & body care, etc. (251 NE 3rd St, McMinnville, Open Daily, 503.472.5740)

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Portland Urban Foraging

December 31, 2013

Portland is a little powerhouse food city of the West Coast. It has the food resources of a much larger city: nationally-acclaimed restaurants and bars, an impressive number of well-stocked farmer’s markets, all manner of natural and specialty food shops, and a comprehensive network of artisan food producers. The list of resources presented here is long but is not exhaustive. These are my favorite spots:

City Market Northwest
In Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood there’s a permanent indoor market that houses multiple independent vendors–it’s called Melrose Market and was conceptualized by chef Matt Dillon, whose restaurant, Sitka & Spruce, anchors the market. City Market Northwest is similar in concept–multiple vendors under one roof–but from the perspective of a retailer rather than a chef. Each grocery department is covered by independent businesses, so you get the quality, depth, and expertise of a boutique shop combined with the convenience of one-stop shopping. (735 NW 21st Ave, Open Daily, 503.221.3007)

Flying Fish Co. & Kruger’s Farm Market
The seafood here is high quality and all sustainably sourced. They also have a small selection of local meat, eggs, and pantry items. Right next to the Flying Fish Co., is Kruger’s Farm Market–one urban outpost of Kruger’s Farm, which grows fruits, veggies, and flowers on the outskirts of Portland. Between Kruger’s and Flying Fish Co. there’s a nice selection of seafood and produce, plus a few extras. (2310 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Open Daily, Flying Fish: 971.258.5212, Kruger’s: 503.235.0314)

Pastaworks
A classic Italian specialty shop featuring a lot of great imported goods. The fresh departments are limited, so save your meat and produce shopping for another stop. (3735 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Open Daily, 503.232.1010)

Woodsman Market
Something of a retail larder, this shop has a small selection but is laser-focused on high quality, local, and artisan goods. They have charcuterie (local, imported, and house-made), local meats butchered in-house, cheese, eggs, fresh produce, and a collection of pantry goods. (4529 SE Division St, Open Daily, 971.373.8267)

Foster & Dobbs
No fresh departments here, but the local charcuterie, cheese, and pantry goods they carry are great quality. (2518 NE 15th Ave, Open Daily, 503.284.1157)

Market of Choice
A small chain of natural grocery stores based out of Eugene, with one location in Portland. Check it out for the great selection of Oregon products. (8502 SW Terwilliger Blvd, Open Daily, 503.892.7331)

Mr. Green Beans
A DIY foodie heaven, Mr. Green Beans sells “domestic arts” equipment–everything you need to roast your own coffee, make cheese, and put up pickles and preserves. (3932 N Mississippi Ave Open Daily, 503.288.8698)

Portland State University Farmers’ Market
This is Portland’s big market. Set in a gorgeous location with a full range of farms, food producers, and even some apothecary items. (South Park Blocks, SW Park Ave at SW Montgomery St, Saturdays, March – December)

There are so many farmers’ markets in Portland; for a list of all the others check out this 2013 Guide to Portland Metro Area Farmers Markets.

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More of What We’ve Been Reading

December 09, 2013

Naturally Grown: An Alternative Label to Organic

Many people don’t realize that the increased cost of Organic isn’t just less efficient/more expensive growing techniques or farmers charging a premium for their work.  Organic certification can be very costly.  Sure, it helps ensure everybody’s following the rules, but it can also bar the door for small producers.

We actually sell at least a few products that could be considered organically grown, but can’t call them that, because they haven’t been certified.

Soylent: An Offbeat Food…

The idea of people subsisting on industrially processed food replacement shakes isn’t exactly something that lights our fire.  On the other hand, there are a lot of people out there who don’t have the time or energy to cook…and alternatives often offer incomplete nutrition and/or are unhealthy takeout.

As unappealing as we find Soylent’s ingredient list…we have to admit it’s better than what’s in a chicken nugget or a certain competing product….

FDA Moves to Ban Trans Fats

A lot of people don’t realize that could still be eating trans fats.  As long as each serving of a food contains .5grams or less of trans fats, it can be rounded down to zero on nutrition labels.

Sure, that doesn’t seem like much…but as this article points out, as little as 2 or 3 grams per day can be a problem.

Why Are Pig Farmers Still Using Growth Promoting Drugs?

An excellent question that more people should be asking…



Urban Foraging Guides

November 26, 2013

It’s easy enough to find guides on which restaurants, bars, and food trucks to sample when visiting a city, but guides on where to shop for food are considerably harder to come by. Sometimes you just want to cook a meal, or pack a nice picnic, or have a snack that didn’t come out of a hotel minibar. The following guides are meant to help with all of those needs.

These guides are also useful if your intention for traveling (as it often is for us) is to savor the unique culinary landscape of a place–much of a city’s character can be discovered though its farmers’ markets, shops, and food producers. Plus, you never know what tasty local specialty you may stumble upon. Go forth and forage!

Portland
Willamette Valley
North Olympic Peninsula



Going to the Source: Chicaoji!

November 26, 2013

Chicaoji Hot Sauce is one of my favorite products we sell, not just because it’s local and tasty, but also because of the down to earth guy who makes it: Randall Waugh. He’s a solid guy!

I recently got to go to Lopez Island to interview Randall and watch Chicaoji being made – check out the video below:



Truffle Hunting in Italy

November 04, 2013

One of the highlights of my recent food scouting trip to Italy was getting to hunt bianchetti truffles & fresh morels.

I love wild foods –especially wild mushrooms.  The forest contains some of the most delicious foods and some of them, like mushrooms and truffles, are defenseless and just waiting for you to pick them.

I wish it was that simple.  Our hosts can see the forest floor like Neo can see the matrix.

My guide was Luigi – a 26-year foraging veteran in Emilia Romagna who started out with a farmer’s market stand and is now king of the small specialty food & hospitality empire that produces our favorite Selezione truffle oils.

Luigi and one of his foragers brought a dog along to help with the truffles.  Dogs help locate truffles with more accuracy than humans – allowing them to be gathered without digging up large portions of the ground.  This is better for the forest and better for the truffles.  By not disturbing the delicate mycological organism underground that produces truffles, you help ensure they’ll still be around next year.  And, dogs can tell at a distance whether a truffle’s fully ripe, so you’re not plucking truffles before (or after) their time.

You’ve probably heard of people hunting truffles with pigs, and some still do, just not in Italy.  It’s illegal to use pigs there because of Italy’s forests are different and pigs would damage the ground.

We were especially glad to have the dog with us on this trip because bianchetti season was almost over – the truffles still out there were tiny – about 5g each.  They’re really, really hard to find if you don’t have a trained nose down on the ground.*  As it turned out, they made the truffle hunting so easy for me that it wasn’t very rewarding.  The dog did most of the work and then my guide pushed the dirt aside and said something like “here, take it.”  It was like taking an egg out of an unguarded chicken nest.  Too easy.

Next we moved on to the morels.  Believe it or not, despite having eaten tons of morel mushrooms over the years that grow within a couple hundred miles of my home, I’ve never actually hunted them myself – so this was a great treat.

Unfortunately we couldn’t use our canine assistant here…the only way we could find them is to train our eye to watch for the white/cream color of their stems – picking them out amongst the leaves and debris on the forest floor.

Luigi’s got the eyes of a hawk, I’d walk right past a bunch of leaves where he’d immediately spot six morels.  Foraging at this level really is an art – a combination of eyesight, knowledge, experience and perseverance.  I got better at spotting them the more time we spent looking, but I’m not going to be at his level anytime soon.

The entire trip to Italy was an incredible experience – the food, products, and the people producing them here are amazing, but this foray out into the wild was a particular highlight.

*Note to self: I need to put Nyoki to work next Oregon truffle season – it’s time he earned his keep.



What We’ve Been Reading

November 01, 2013

Now a Test Can Tell If Your Pricey Cup of Cat Poop Coffee is Fake
Yep, that’s right, there are people pretending their coffee beans have been pooped by a cat when they haven’t.  Just mull (brew?) that over for a second.

Now that you’ve wrapped your head around the concept of civet-poop-coffee-fraud…read this article to learn why people would want to pull such a “dirty” trick.

 

Bringing Home the Woolly Bacon from Hungary
Let’s be clear, the bacon itself isn’t actually wooly, the pigs are.  This article discusses the heritage and wondrous properties of Mangalitsa pork – it also includes a fabulous photo of a mangalitsa pig, standing proudly like a stylishly coiffured porcine gentleman.

 

FDA Defining What ‘Gluten Free’ Means on Food Labels
Those of us who are gluten free or live with those on restricted diets know how tricky “gluten free” products and restaurant offerings can be.  It can mean a lot of things and it isn’t always clear how gluten free they actually are.  It sounds like the USDA’s finally stepping in to change that.

 

Ancestors’ Exposure to DDT May Contribute to Obesity
We hear about America’s Obesity Epidemic all the time…but this is the first time someone’s suggested that the cause is more complicated than processed/junk food.  This fascinating (& horrifying) article suggests that the nation’s difficulty keeping the pounds off might not be entirely our fault and that personal genetics may be more complicated than previously thought.



Visiting Appenino Food

October 28, 2013

I’m man enough to admit that sometimes I walk around in little plastic blue bootees.  Hey, they may not be the most stylish footwear on the planet, but when you’re going to the source you sometimes have to eschew fashion for food safety.

On a recent food scouting trip to Italy I got a chance to tour Appenino Food, producers of fine all natural products like our selezione truffle oils, truffle salt, and truffle butter.

Luigi, the head of the company, showed us around.  The man knows quality produce when he sees it, and he should – he worked his way up from selling foraged edibles at a farmers market to this beautiful modern facility.  He clearly hasn’t lost sight of what matters along the way.

Not only was the place spotless but stylish too – check out this handle for their walk-in cooler.  His cooler had a big basket of fresh white truffles for local restaurants, and his freezer was packed with the best frozen porcinis I’ve ever seen.

When we visited, his employees were hand-packing artichokehearts in sunflower seed oil with vinegar.  The artichokes come right into the factory from the field, and every step from that point on, until the jars are closed, is done by hand to preserve quality.

Take a look.  They’re absolutely gorgeous.

This hands-on method allows an impressive level of quality control – the employees scrutinize the artichokes every step of the way.  If they don’t pass muster they get chucked right there.

Sure, it’s a factory, but Luigi’s found a way to balance safety and efficiency with maintaining top quality.  I’m proud to sell his products.



Balsamic Vinegar’s Secret Ingredient

October 22, 2013

On a recent food scouting trip to Italy, I got to visit Compagnia del Montale, producers of our aged balsamic vinegars and two-time winners of the Spilamberto Prize for best balsamic in the world.

We’ve discussed how balsamic vinegars are made elsewhere.  All traditional balsamics are made from cooked grape must, but there’s actually another, very important ingredient: wood.

Just like you’ve probably heard sommeliers and foodies discussing the “oaked” characteristics of wine, the type of wood you age balsamic vinegar in imparts different flavors to the finished product.

Producers can use whatever wood they want, and as many different aging barrels as they want.

So here’s CdM’s award winning recipe (pencils ready?):

Six Barrel Set
Cherry -> Mulberry -> Ash -> Acacia -> Chestnut -> Oak

I’ll let Enrico explain why:

Oh…and you’ve got to pick just the right grapes, cook them just the right way, and treat them with love, respect and incredible care over the course of 12-25 years.  Easy, right?

Want to know more? Here’s a description of the whole process straight from Enrico:

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Related Posts:
Guide to Compagnia del Montale Vinegars



Food Factories

September 30, 2013

Pretty much any product wrapped in plastic in a regular supermarket has been made by a machine.  Ignore the pictures on the label of smiling workers or farms and imagine a really BIG machine.

It doesn’t matter how many factories I go to.  They are always surprising.  On a recent procurement trip to Japan, I toured three factories, all of which were for supermarket products (high-volume, low-quality products that I knew were not for me).  In some regards, the tours were a waste of time, but it is always either enlightening or frightening to visit a factory so I will never turn down an invitation.  In this case, I visited three: a fruit in jelly factory (a la those jello molds with fruit in them); a corn snack factory; and a ready to heat udon factory.

Some common characteristics of those factories were:

  1. Factories are staffed with uniformed Japanese workers that are somewhere between Willy Wonka and the product of 1980s era American factory worker nightmare.
  2. The factories are very clean and the workers are completely covered up.  I was surprised that they were more covered up than in a slaughterhouse and then realized that it is probably because the foods these factories were making are ready to eat.  With meat, you know that it is going to get cooked by a chef or consumer and that will kill any remaining bacteria.  You have to take your shoes off before you step in the building.  The only thing showing from behind your smock suit is your eyes.  In some factories we had to go through a lint brush and then an “air shower” which basically puts you in a wind tunnel and sucks everything off of you.Everything in Japan is extremely clean, except the air which is apparently the fault of China.  I’d be furious but the passive Japanese apparently just suck up the dirty air and hope they can sell the Chinese their clean air technology.
  3. No human hands touch the product once the raw material enters the stream.  Wheat and water go in the mixer and cooked, bagged and chilled udon comes out the other end.  A human doesn’t touch it until it places the individual bags into a box.  Corn meal goes in and bagged popped corn snacks come out the other end.  Jelly and fruit go in one end and a human hand doesn’t actually touch the product until someone in the supermarket removes it from a box and puts it on the shelf.  That line is automated all the way through.  The individual jelly cups get sealed, pasteurized in a hot water bath, chilled in a cold water bath, boxed, shrink-wrapped and even palletized by machine.  Then an automated system moves the pallet into the warehouse.

 

One jelly line makes 6,000 pieces per hour.  I know you can do math, but that is 100 per minute or 1.66 pieces per SECOND.  No human can work that fast.  The fruit jelly factory had 12 lines making 1,100,000 units per day.  Staggering!  Imagine a football field of machines moving product through the line and out the door.

The noodle factory might have been the most interesting process to see because they basically take a huge batch of dough and then roll it out through a series of six rollers.  Each roller thinned the continuous pasta sheet a little bit more and also moved faster because it had to process more length than the previous roller.  Once at the right thickness, it went through a cutter that sliced it into noodles, then it got cut into 8 inch lengths and dropped through a hole in the floor into the giant boiler that was on the level below.  Each portion landed in a cage that went through the boiler, then through a water bath with lactic acid that had a low enough pH to make the noodles such that refrigeration was not necessary on the shelf.  Then into a chiller, then into a bag.  Once it was bagged it went into another hot water bath for pasteurization, then into another chiller.

The machines are enormous and staggering and automated.  In some of these places there are probably more engineers than production line workers.  Basically, any product that is on a mainstream supermarket shelf wrapped in plastic is made by machines.  Know it.  The level of automation is always staggering no matter how many of these places I see.  I don’t see many, truth be told.  Most of the non-meat producers that I visit are small-batch, hand-made artisanal products.

Some of the factories are shiny and new, others are a few decades old with big hunking rusty exteriors with steam billowing out from all cracks.  Sadly, none of these factories allowed us to take pictures.



Gruesome Slaughter

September 23, 2013

I have seen a lot of forms of slaughter, but none creeped me out more than the way I saw eels being killed at the Tsukiji Fish Market on a recent food scouting mission to Japan. My initial notes read:
“One disturbing thing at this market was that the eels apparently need to be filleted alive in order to optimize quality. They hold them in shallow trays and apparently keep them mellow by cutting their vertebrae and holding them in the community blood pool that results. You can see that they are still alive as they barely slither around. Then someone plucks one out, puts a nail through its head to hold it on the cutting board and fillets them. That’s quite a miserable death. Possibly the worst form of slaughter I have ever seen.”
But before putting that judgment here on the blog, I did some more research about it and discovered that it is a practice called ikejime and it looks a lot worse than it actually is (read more about it on Wikipedia and Cooking Issues). The vertebrae cut basically paralyzes the eels, so they can’t feel anything, but they are still a sentient head swimming in a pool of blood. That’s definitely gruesome. The nail to the head apparently kills the brain, so the eel isn’t actually being filleted alive. It’s already dead. The gastronomic reason for the practice is to minimize the stress and flopping because that degrades the quality of the flesh.
So, what is my judgment after doing more research? It’s complicated. I’d say that ikejime is actually pretty humane if the brain is killed quick. Much of what I saw, however, was brain-alive eel in holding tanks. I don’t know if an eel knows the feeling of frustration, but it can’t get more frustrating than that. I’ve never cared for the taste of eel so I really never eat it. Certainly, what I saw isn’t making me crave it.
On this topic, I live in a glass house. What can I say? We sell over a hundred species of fish and meat that are processed (see, “processed”, there’s my marketer’s euphemism) in a whole variety of ways. I haven’t seen them all and I’d bet that some of those kill floors can use improvement. What I have truly seen consistently is an evolution toward more and more humane practices as a result of a mix of government-pressure, consumer-pressure and, believe-it-or-not, operators that want to improve. As cynical as you may want to be, believe me that there are good operators out there who do better than the minimum required of them.
This stuff is hard to write about and hard to think about. I grew up in a slaughterhouse and despite my heightened level of desensitization, it is still tough to stomach sometimes. There’s a reason why a few generations of food marketers have offered only happy food images and avoided talking about how food gets to the table. The reality of it is that nature is gruesome. No matter how much we think we are different from any other animals, we still kill things and eat them. And no matter how hard we try as a society to be more humane (we do get better all the time), we have to kill things to eat them.
Slaughter is an unavoidable part of the whole thing. There’s probably no way to make it perfect. Apart from incremental improvements, the biggest impact we can have is to constantly improve the lives of food animals because slaughter is only the last little bit of the process.