It’s 4 a.m. The aroma of fresh bread comes from flaming ovens. Buttery croissants are rolled, cut and shaped by hand at Ken’s Artisan Bakery in Portland. An hour later, the sweet smell of fresh baguette dough wafts past four bakers in jeans, t-shirts and aprons, their heads down, their floured hands dividing and shaping smooth, long loaves. The oven door clanks as the bread goes in.
Kevin Zielinski’s eyes light up as he names the apple varieties he tends at his Willamette Valley orchard, just outside of Salem. Champagne Rienette. Douce Moën. Muscadet de Lense. St. Martine. The sinuous vowels and soft consonants even sound delicious. Eventually, they become fluid when Zielinski transforms these French heirloom apples into a traditional sparkling hard cider that leaves many searching for words.
Bailey’s family has been growing cherries in these hills for more than eighty years, when his grandparents made their first investment in a piece of farmland. Since then, Orchard View Farms has grown to include 2,050 acres in four counties. The orchard is home to twelve types of sweet cherries, from perennial favorites Bing and Rainier to more unusual choices, such as Sweetheart and Skeena.
Jill McClaran wears her blonde hair to her waist and spurs on her cowboy boots. The 27-year-old spends her days in the saddle herding cattle along the basalt rims and airy benches of Hell’s Canyon. Out of cell phone range and hours from the nearest town, this University of Idaho graduate looks over a thousand McClaran Ranch cattle as they graze the rugged and wild eastern Oregon grasslands.
Most mornings in June, starting at about 5:30, Chris Christensen is out in the strawberry fields of her 250-acre farm in Albany, picking the perfectly ripe fruit. “I’d rather sit and pick than do anything else” says Christensen, a third-generation strawberry grower. “There’s that quiet moment when the crew gets down to do it, and the birds are going, and you’re in your own thoughts. I’m giddy.” As she deftly plucks the berries from the plants, she’ll pop a few into her mouth, savoring the natural sugar and juice that combines in an intense flavor found only in an Oregon strawberry. From farm-stand shoppers to food scientists and high-profile chefs, people with discriminating taste buds agree that this state produces the most intensely sweet, red and juicy strawberries. Even the world’s strawberry cognoscenti, mostly food professionals, know this. Yet, the berries are still relatively obscure, in part because production…