I didn’t have the same amount of time to spend as I did in the Yakima Valley, but after an overnight at Cave B Inn at SageCliffe, a drive through the Wenatchee Valley en route to my final stop of Leavenworth gave me a few hours of agri-tourism pleasure. As it should. Wenatchee Valley takes pride in getting 300 days of sunshine, which provides a chance to produce great crops and inspiration for a great number of artisan makers.
I wanted to say a quick hello to the friendly folks at Tiny’s Organic, visiting them on their own turf after all the times I’ve seen them at my local farmers markets. You can do the same by making an appointment. The family-owned, friendly farm is home to lots of stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines, and cherries), vegetables, and, of course, apples. (I also saw some baby turkeys that will make some people very happy on Thanksgiving.)
Apples are all over Wenatchee valley, and the father and son team of Peter and Lars Ringsrud put their orchard apples to good use at Snowdrift Cider Company. They credit the hot sunny summer and cold snowy winters for producing apples with incredible aromatics, flavors, and sweetness. Snowdrift’s production began just last year; this year’s estimate is 500 cases, with an ultimate goal of 2,000-3,000 cases.
These ciders, with 8-9% alcohol content, are complex blends, with five to nine varieties of apples per blend. A little carbonation is added to enhance the flavor, as the flavor components go to the nasal passages. The ciders, which pair well with cheese and many other foods, are available at Bottleworks, Whole Foods Market, Central Market, Eat Local, and The Noble Fir.
In this land of wineries, there are some other beverages of interest. I paid a short visit to It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere (in Cashmere), where Colin Levi is enthusiastically producing Chilean-style brandy made from the wine of Washington grapes. It’s a small but fascinating operation, and the tasting room is open whenever Levi is there.
Warning: The brandy is 54.7% alcohol/volume. Serious stuff. And if that’s not enough, Levi will soon be working on pear brandy and “Block and Tackle” pure corn moonshine.
Need a caffeine boost? Caffe Mela in downtown Wenatchee makes breakfast and lunch with many local ingredients, and offers hand-crafted coffee and espresso beverages made primarily with fair-trade, organic beans. The staff members are real coffee evangelists; while there, I enjoyed a chance to do some cupping, learning a lot about flavor profiles in the process.
Caffe Mela also has a commitment also to the local art and music scene, offering open mike nights twice per week, and hosting weekly summer music in the park.
I didn’t have time to explore the restaurant scene. Some said that there are a few good options, while others advised me to stick to the taco trucks. In Cashmere, I did enjoy a pulled pork sandwich at Country Boys BBQ. ($6.50, and spiked with a Texas hot link for an additional $2.25.) The Boys also have baby back and spare ribs, beef brisket, and chicken, as well as the usual sides: BBQ beans, coleslaw, potato salad, and cornbread. How to find Country Boys? Amidst all the Americana strewn about town, look for a pig on the sidewalk.
If I lived in the Wenatchee Valley, I’d be visiting the Farmhouse Table Market quite frequently. It’s run by the Community Farmhouse Connection, “a grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to supporting small farms and sustainable agriculture by bringing the community directly in contact with the farmers who grow our food.”
In addition to offering a CSA distribution program and working with local chefs and caterers, they operate the market, which features organic, locally-grown produce, farmstead cheeses, dairy products (eggs, raw milk, etc.), and other locally produced food items. It’s a friendly place with an educational focus; they’ll teach you about the products (how to use them, and there’s a library for research and recipe-hunting.
At the Farmhouse Table Market, I met Chef Richard Kitos, who, along with his wife, owns the IvyWild Inn and B&B in Wenatchee. Kitos is a colorful character in town, and a leading advocate for using local products. He suggested I pick out a few things in the market (being early summer, the morels and garlic scapes looked great) and invited me to check out IvyWild. It looked like a cozy place to stay, with a wonderful backyard for outdoor lovers, and a home theater space for indoor extremists.
But mostly I’d be in the kitchen, helping Kitos prepare a down-to-earth, omelette-and-salad lunch that was refreshing for a person who’d been on the road eating restaurant food for a week. In the midst of my culinary tour, a meal like this drove home the point of what an agri-tourism trip is all about.
(Note: You can also cook with Kitos. Watch the IvyWild website for various cooking class opportunities. As early as next week, there’s a “Thrill of the Grill and BBQ Too” class, followed by a couple of Thanksgiving-related offerings, and then classes on tapas and cocktail party fare.)
First published on TheSunbreak.com on October 13, 2010.