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Oregon: A bountiful journey

Courtesy Ponzi Vineyards

It all began with some wine-tasting events over a couple of weekends in November.

“We thought if we brought in some pears and cheeses to the tasting rooms, it would be more reason to travel to wine country,” said Michelle Godfrey, public relations manager for Travel Oregon, the state’s travel office.

“The wine growers loved it, so we said, let’s take it up further.”

Now in its seventh year, the Oregon Bounty promotional program has been extended statewide and involves a wide range of the state’s abundant food products.

“You can go anywhere and get some kind of culinary experience,” said Godfrey.

The extensive Oregon Bounty website — — is filled with culinary travel suggestions. Visitors can search the site by region and city, by food-related events, by local restaurants and by “places for foodies,” such as wineries, craft breweries, farmer’s markets, you-picks, culinary experiences, spirits, ranches and artisan producers.

There are also Oregon recipes on a great variety of topics, from breakfasts and seafood to desserts and cocktails.

“We recognized it had potential and was a way to differentiate ourselves,” said Godfrey. “It has continued to grow.

“People who come to Oregon are looking for unique experiences. There is a real foodie sensibility and wide variety of products here. We have nearly every crop known to man.”

Chocolate decadence
Portland Walking Tours’ Chocolate Decadence Tour is a chocoholic’s dream.

“The basic idea is to really immerse yourself in chocolate and its many forms,” said Gary Corbin, who bills himself as the royal storyteller for the company. “We try to allow the person on tour to experience chocolate in as many ways and forms as possible.

“We show chocolate in drinking form, bars, truffles and even chocolate vinegar. And we almost always stop at a bakery and get it baked in some form, like a croissant.

“We also have people taste nibs, the crushed up granules from the pod that is the basis of cocoa. You see how that is different from the finished chocolate,” he said.

“In addition to tasting, we explain how chocolate is made, from the pod and bean down to nibs and any chocolate form. They can envision through props the whole process from plantation to chocolate bar and drink.”

The two-and-one-half-hour tour includes stops at six to eight places. “Portland has no actual chocolate-makers per se,” said Corbin. “We have chocolatiers, and we show people on tour all the different ways they can turn this substance into something wonderful.

“We also cover chocolate’s history from a ceremonial drink by Native Americans, a very bitter drink they used to make that evolved over time into the candy bars of today.”

Corbin said the tour usually starts with drinking chocolate but not the kind you would expect. “It is very different than hot cocoa,” he said. “It is melted dark chocolate mixed with a little bit of milk. You are drinking almost straight chocolate; it’s an intense experience.”

The tour also contrasts finer chocolate with the kind found in everyday candy. “We show how, in its finer forms, it is a different product than the stuff you buy off the candy shelf,” said Corbin.

on the farm

Some Oregon culinary experiences take you down on the farm to where it all begins. Two family-owned stops in Washington County near Hillsboro that are attuned to motorcoach groups are Smith Berry Barn and Oregon Heritage Farms.

Smith Berry Barn, which began in 1978 as a you-pick raspberry farm, has grown to a 30-acre family farm with far more than just berries, although it still has plenty of those with 10 varieties of cane berries available for you-pickers or in its store.

There is a five-acre apple orchard with more than 20 varieties of antique and modern apples, and fields with specialty produce such as gourmet greens, fresh herbs, gourmet squash and pumpkins, and heirloom tomatoes and peppers.

For the gardener, there are potted herbs, perennials, roses, fruits and vegetables, along with a full line of accessories and decor, such as pots, statuary and garden tools.

The greenhouse is full of flowers and hanging baskets in the spring, and the store is filled with gourmet products, including fruit preserves and honey made from hives on the farm.

And you don’t have to wait until you get home to try some of the products, which include fresh milkshakes, berries, gourmet espresso and homemade baked goods.

Although Oregon Heritage Farms specializes in apples and offers apple and cider tasting, its store also has seasonal vegetables and fruits, along with country crafts and gifts.

Among the many varieties of apples grown at the farm are Gravenstein, Jonagold Red, Honey Crisp, Gala, McIntosh, Braeburn, Fuji, Red Delicious, Granny Smith and Melrose.

Groups can arrange for customized tours that include such options as a covered hayride through the orchards, a hay maze and a tour of the packing facility.

A tasty and spirited Portland adventure
According to Marcus Hibdon, the communications and public relations manager for Travel Portland, the Oregon city’s convention and visitors bureau, local residents have discerning tastes when it comes to eating and drinking. And that translates into memorable culinary experiences for visitors.

“The people who live in Portland are very interested in craft products, things done on a small scale but at a high level,” said Hibdon. “They tend to avoid large-scale chain restaurants or multinational corporations, and look for that small individual entrepreneur who just has a business here in Portland.

“Anything to do with food and drink you can find on a very high artistic, craft-type level. There is a real wide variety of different products available here.”

Hibdon said a good way to sample the diverse Portland culinary scene is on walking tours with a couple of local operators: Portland Walking Tours and Forktown Food Tours.

“Both take you to local bakeries, chocolatiers, tea-tasting places and into the kitchens of some of the best chefs in the city,” he said. “They also have specific tours that key in on just one element.”

You can experience two elements of Portland culture with Pedal Bike Tours Coffee Crawl.
“They take you around to several different coffee shops,” said Hibdon. “They all roast their own beans on site, and it is in a very particular small-batch way.

“You probably taste six to 10 different coffees roasted in different ways. Each one is a little different. You come out with a lot more knowledge about the coffee-roasting process. There is an educational element that makes it extra fun.

“And it takes part on bicycles, which is another part of Portland culture,” said Hibdon.

You get to see interesting neighborhoods. The company’s website notes: “After learning about the roasting process, ride through a picturesque neighborhood of streets lined with beautiful homes set in a diamond pattern and featuring satellites of Portland’s famous international test rose gardens.”

Portland has attained national status for its micro and craft breweries. “The last time we counted, there were 38 breweries,” said Hibdon. “You are never far from fresh local beer. All bring something different and unique to the table.

“There are hundreds of beers on tap, all different from each other and made by people who know what they are doing and are passionate about it.”

A new development on the Portland culinary scene is craft spirits. At Distillery Row, five locally owned distillers located in a neighborhood of small warehouses and light industrial buildings in southeast Portland make small-batch rum, gin, vodka, aquavit and absinthe.

“It’s a chance to check out five different micro distillers, all making something different and in a different way,” said Hibdon. “On Saturdays, you can go to each one and have a taste, and learn how they make their spirits.”

However, Hibdon said dining is still the best culinary experience in Portland.

“Putting drinks aside, the food coming out of the local restaurants is probably the most attractive feature for a lot of visitors,” he said.

Hibdon said because Portland is relatively small and inexpensive, it is easy for chefs to open businesses that don’t have to be bottom-line driven.

“They can take risks, and that opens the door to be creative,” he said. “There are dozens of restaurants that do an amazing job and are so creative and authentic.

“They are taking inspirations for dishes from somewhere else but are using local ingredients. It might be a Spanish tapas-style restaurant, with all the menu very authentic but made with ingredients from here.”

More on Oregon:

A bountiful journey

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