Wenatchee Valley, on the east side of Washington’s Cascade Mountains, is a high-desert agricultural oasis well known for growing some of the finest wine grapes, apples and pears in the Northwest. Its golden, rolling hills also make it a terrific destination for an RV trip – and a great place for road foodies to get a taste of artisan food and drink.
We started our discoveries in Cashmere, a quaint town with a historic and walkable downtown famous as the home of Aplets and Cotlets. Since 1920, Liberty Orchards has been making these devilishly good confections of gelled fruit and walnuts dredged in powdered sugar. It offers free tours and samplings at its gift shop and factory on Mission Avenue.
A few doors down is Snapdragon Coffee CafÃ©, the place to go for terrific gelato and creative juice and coffee drinks. Snapdragon’s creamy gelato comes in flavors such as chocolate cabernet and sorbets include local flavors such as raspberry cider, blackberry cider and Old World spiced cider and Cotlets. Snapdragon also makes interesting non-alcoholic juice drinks like basil lemonade.
Across the hall is It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere Distillery, where staffers distill and hand bottle artisan gin, whiskies, and fruit brandies (eau-de-vies). They’ll let you sample any or all of it in their tasting room.
Not far from downtown is Cashmere Cider Mill, a cidery making non-alcoholic artisan ciders in flavors like red cherry, blackberry and, my favorite, lavender. Large fruit presses grind apples, seeds, stems, flesh and skins to make juice or cider, then concentrate it and add water. Marcia and Kyle Green use the old-fashioned press method with cloth filters that put only juice and a bit of apple pulp into the bottle. Their apple cider, which is bottled in glass wine bottles, goes through flash pasteurization that kills bacteria and retains the flavor. After opening, the cider keeps in the refrigerator for four to six weeks.
Just 20 minutes down the road in East Wenatchee, they make hard cider at Snowdrift Cider Company. In 2008, apple grower Peter Ringsrud and his son and son-in-law made hard cider from “cider apples,” fruit that contains tannins like wine grapes and produces bittersweet and bittersharp flavors.
“When you mention cider, people think about sweet products like Martinelli’s. But hard cider actually has little apple flavor with the tannins coming through,” explains Paul Ringsrud.
They grind cider apples like Kingston Black, Michelin and Foxwell, seeds and stems and all, and press them. They blend different apples to achieve varying characteristics and their products contain an average of 7 to 8 percent alcohol.
Snowdrift produces 35 varieties of cider such as English Style, a combination of a base aromatic cider blend and a bittersweet blend that produces a mild, delicate and complex flavor, and Orchard Select, light and refreshing cider with citrus notes and a peach finish. The hard ciders range in price from $14 to $20 and you can taste and buy them at their small tasting room by calling ahead.
Wenatchee doesn’t have a beer brewery, but there are plenty of Northwest artisan brews at the Saddle Rock Pub on North Wenatchee Avenue in Wenatchee. You can even get a “ski” half flight (six tastes) or a full flight (12 tastes) on clever flight boards made from real skis.
For foodies, Saddle Rock’s thin-crust pizzas with house-made, tossed dough and flavorful from-scratch pizza sauces are must-haves. They offer interesting pizzas like the Wenatchee with local apples and smoky bacon.
Another local product is Little River Candy Company’s toffee popcorn, perfectly round kernels of fat popcorn lightly coated with liquid toffee – a great road snack. They use special popcorn called Magic Mushroom that pops up fat and round. While Little River doesn’t have a retail location, you can buy its toffee popcorn at several Northwest stores, including Haggen stores, Red Apple and Albertson’s.
If you travel to this area in the spring, summer or fall, make sure to stop at the many fruit stands and indulge in the valley’s natural bounty – fresh cherries, peaches, pears, apples, apricots, plucots, nectarines, corn and more. You won’t find produce any better or fresher.
Have your own artisan/agricultural valley to recommend? Send an email with “Road Foodie” in the subject line to [email protected].