12 amazing artisanal foods

Artisanal food fever has been consuming the West. Taste our favorite products made here

Tomato sauce

Photo by Jeffery Cross; written by Margo True

Tomato sauce

Amber Balakian’s heirloom-tomato sauces from Reedley, California, come in transcendent flavors like Green Zebra, Yellow Roman, and Pink Oxheart. “They taste like you’ve just squeezed a ripe tomato into your mouth.” From $10 for 16 oz.; balakianfarms.com

Bread-and-butter pickles

Photo by Jeffery Cross; written by Elaine Johnson

Bread-and-butter pickles 

“Super-crunchy and salty-sweet” with a “serrano chile kick,” Sonoma Brinery’s pickles are fresh-packed, not heat-processed, so they still taste like cucumbers. $4.49 for 16 oz.; sonomabrinery.com for stores. 

Vanilla bean extract crush

Photo by Jeffery Cross; written by Amy Machnak

Vanilla bean extract crush 

Sonoma Syrup’s extract contains “actual seeds from a fresh vanilla pod, so you don’t have to decide between vanilla beans and extract when you bake.” In a face-off with cookies made with a regular extract, it won every time. From $12 for 4 oz.; sonomasyrup.com  

 

Balsamic vinegar

Photo by Jeffery Cross; written by Margo True

Balsamic vinegar 

So what really goes into a $150 bottle of traditional aceto balsamico? The juice of 200 pounds of organic grapes, evaporated and “aged in wooden casks for at least 12 years, just like in Italy”—except it’s produced in the high desert of New Mexico. “Each sweet, silky drop explodes with flavor.” $150 for 4.5 oz.; organicbalsamic.com

Cherries

Photo by Jeffery Cross; written by Amy Machnak

Cherries 

“Forget the neon maraschinos of the past.” These plump, all-natural Bada Bing cherries from Oregon have the right balance of tart and sweet, and make your cocktail or banana split taste like summer. $6.99 for 13.5 oz.; tillenfarms.com

 

Smoked salmon

Photo by Jeffery Cross; written by Margo True

Smoked salmon 

Rich, buttery, alderwood-smoked salmon from Seattle’s Pure Food Fish Market is moist and tinged with a caramel sweetness. “It’s expensive, but sustainably caught, with a flavor as wide and deep as the ocean itself.” 2 lbs. for $90, including shipping; freshseafood.com

 

Absinthe

Photo by Jeffery Cross; written by Amy Machnak

Absinthe 

The makers of Ridge Absinthe in Montana researched recipes from the 1880s before creating this warm, not-too-sweet version. The aromatic balance of herbs, seeds, and roots “only gets better over ice.” Sold in Montana and California or by mail order (from $66 for 750 ml.; catskillcellars.com). 

Petits fours

Photo by Jeffery Cross; written by Stephanie Dean

Petits fours 

These tender layered cakes from Los Angeles have “just the right amount of white chocolate coating and hints of passion fruit and rose petal.” An artful, grown-up petit four. $50 for 1 dozen; valerieconfections.com

Cheese

Photo by Jeffery Cross

Cheese

Some cream-of-the-crop products from Western cheesemakers:

  • Chèvre with white pepper, Nordland, WA: A mild, buttery, romantic goat cheese with a delicacy and balance not often seen in flavored cheeses. $8/4-oz. log; mysterybayfarm.com for stores
  • Txiki, Marshall, CA (pictured): This rich Basque-style sheep’s-milk cheese smells like soil after a rain. The deep, earthy flavor goes on and on. $30/lb.; available summer/fall; barinagaranch.com for stores 
  • Two-Faced Blue, Doty, WA: A smooth, pale-yellow cheese with craggy lines of blue shooting through it, this mellow beauty reminds us of Stilton. $26/lb.; willapahillscheese.com
  • Seascape, Oakdale, CA: Both cow’s and goat’s milk go into these big wheels, creating a complex cheese with nutty sweetness and great acidity. $17/lb.; centralcoastcreamery.com  

Chocolate

Photo by Jeffery Cross

Chocolate

The number of chocolatiers in the West boggles the mind, and chocolate just keeps getting better, from fair trade, organic, and single-origin beans to bonbons emblazoned in jewel tones. Here’s a taste:

  • Cadeaux Chocolates, Seattle: Each gemlike truffle is filled with beautifully textured ganache. The caramels are dreamy too. cadeauxchocolates.com
  • Chocolot, Ogden, UT: The company works wonders with the cacao nib, especially in its Orange Nib Bar. sweetchocolot.com
  • Au Coeur Des Chocolats, San Francisco: These airbrushed truffles are (almost) too pretty to eat. heartofchocolates.com
  • Michael Mischer, Oakland: We love his single-origin bars studded with toffee and salt. michaelmischerchocolates.com
  • Xocolatl de David, Portland (pictured): We’re obsessing over the Raleigh bars (like a gourmet Snickers). xocolatldedavid.com
  • Seth Ellis Chocolatier, Boulder, CO: Organic, handcrafted truffles with silky smooth ganache astound; try the raspberry. sethellischocolatier.com

Jam

Photo by Jeffery Cross

Jam

Nothing really beats fresh fruit captured at its peak of ripeness and slathered on a piece of buttery toast. With a focus on heirloom fruits, small-batch recipes, and local, local, local (often the fruit comes from the yard out back), the jams here blow our minds. Grab a spoon.

  • June Taylor Company, Berkeley: The grand dame of small-batch jams, Taylor seeks out heir­loom and forgotten fruits. From $13; junetaylorjams.com
  • Hurley Farms, Napa: Its Royal Blenheim apricot preserves and Sun Grand nectarine jam are sunshine on a spoon. $6.75; hurleyfarms.com
  • Ayers Creek Farm, Gaston, OR: The Ayers Creek family crafts small-batch jams using only fresh fruit, lemon juice, and a touch of sugar. The logan­berry is a must. $7; 503/985-0177.
  • Ellelle Kitchen, Pasadena, CA: We love the fun, delicious jam combos like Backyard Grapefruit with Campari or Two Berry with Lavender. $14; ellellekitchen.com
  • INNA, Berkeley: Pure jam perfection—the ideal spoonable texture (between runny and firm) and not too sweet. Try the Seascape strawberry jam. $12; innajam.com
  • The Girl & The Fig, Sonoma: The to-die-for black Mission fig jam is made with fruit picked at its peak, cooked with sugar and a touch of cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. $6.75; thegirlandthefig.com
  • Aravaipa Farms, Aravaipa Canyon, AZ: Apricots from the owner’s own sun-drenched orchard are turned into glorious preserves, using an old French recipe. $8.50; aravaipafarms.com
  • Forward Thinking Foods, Victoria, B.C.: Stop by Moss Street Market and pick up a jar of perky-tart berry jam; sadly, they don’t ship. From $3.41 U.S.; forwardthinkingfoods.blogspot.com
  • Blue Chair Fruit, Oakland: Made with local organic fruit in small batches, its seasonal flavors, like Adriatic fig, are simply transcendent. $12; bluechairfruit.com

Olive oil

Photo by Jeffery Cross

Olive oil

Really good extra-virgin olive oil has never been cheap (it’s called liquid gold for a reason), even when made in California. But thanks to a new way of planting trees—trained close together on trellises—great, affordable olive oil is here. We love the buttery, faintly spicy blend from California Olive Ranch. From $10 for 500 ml.; at stores and californiaoliveranch.com

 

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