There are more than three dozen farmers markets in Portland, all of which are fine places to buy greens and stone fruit. But there, as here, the markets also feature an array of food producers offering extraordinary ready-to-eat items. Here, the best products I found at this weekend's Portland State University market.
Alma Chocolate now has a retail shop, but maintains a presence at the market where chocolatier Sarah Hart got her start. The caramel sauces are lovely, but the mind-blower is the peanut butter cup, which harnesses the spicy peanut flavors typically confined to noodle bowls. The peanut butter's woven with ginger, lime and chile, making for a tingly confection that's capped with salt.
Ivory smoked salmon
White-fleshed King salmon has a reputation for disintegrating on the grill, The Smokery's Michael Jacobs tells me, but the mutant fish is ideal for smoking. The unpigmented fish has a subtler flavor than its rosy-hued cousins, and tastes rich and buttery after The Smokery has its way with it.
Picklers love the telltale flavors of fermentation, of course, but sometimes their featured vegetables become lost in a fog of funk. That's not a problem with products from Choi's Kimchi, an outfit launched last year by longtime market shopper Chong Choi. I especially liked his cucumbers and radishes, in which the crunchy daikons get a spice boost from lots of red chile peppers and garlic.
As a corporate entity, Two Tarts isn't allowed to use the name of the cookie it's emulating with its Lil' Mama, but we members of the press are free to invoke the word "Oreo." I love when serious food producers embrace flavors that big industry's made famous, and reclaim them for the handcrafted set. Two Tarts' cookies are a superlative example of the genre, with sophisticated buttercream sandwiches between soft, chocolately wafers.
Buckwheat honey isn't especially unusual in China or Russia, but it's a rarity in the U.S. If you run an Internet search, you'll learn that buckwheat honey's better than cough syrup for treating childhood colds, but I fell for the somber-colored honey without knowing anything about its antioxidant properties. The honey tastes malty, rough and deep, and - pediatricians' endorsements' notwithstanding -- is perhaps the most adult honey I've ever encountered.