A self-professed lover of salt, Jody Van Buskirk figured gourmet seasonings also would please family and friends. Her blends of sea salt, herbs, chilies and garlic became tasteful holiday gifts.
"I like to give food as gifts ... I feel like it's always appreciated," says the Grants Pass resident. "So this started out as a Christmas gift."
Two years later, Salinity flavored finishing salts can be purchased at several Rogue Valley stores after Van Buskirk started selling them in April at the Grants Pass Growers Market. The salt is "sel gris" evaporated from nutrient-rich clay and hand-harvested in Guerande, France. In her Grants Pass commercial kitchen, Van Buskirk hand-mixes each blend — dill, chipotle, "fire," lemon-ginger, rosemary-garlic, lavender-honey, coconut-lime and black truffle — and hand-jars them.
"It's definitely a handmade with love, artisan product," says Van Buskirk.
Also sold at www.salinitysalts.com, individual jars cost $15 for 1.6 to 2 ounces, except for Oregon Black Truffle, which sells for $29. Several gift packs are featured on the site.
With Salinity just one in a growing number of locally produced, specialty foods, we assembled nine other items that appeal to a wide variety of tastes, but are sure to please cooks and enthusiastic eaters on anyone's list. Most are stocking-stuffer size and easy on the holiday budget. Or assemble all 10 in a gift basket.
Winter holidays don't typically celebrate pumpkin, but butter from locally grown squash is a tasty and healthful peanut alternative. Naked Pumpkin Seed Butter is ground in Murphy by Seed Oil Co., a local couple's endeavor to produce high-quality cooking and finishing oils. In addition to farming pumpkins, Kit and Lisa Doyle repurpose seeds from local cabernet sauvignon grapes for their antioxidant-rich grapeseed oil. Containing just dried pumpkin seeds, pumpkin-seed oil and sea salt, their raw pumpkin-seed butter has numerous vitamins and minerals. Buy the 4-ounce jar for $6.75 at Health Food Mart in Medford or at www.seedoilcompany.com.
Also a burgeoning name in the realm of raw foods, Zorba's Raw Chocolates are sold almost exclusively locally. His Ashland company founded four years ago sources organic, sustainably grown cacao beans from a cooperative of about 5,000 small farms in Ecuador, says Todd Bjornson. Never heating the chocolate over 118 degrees preserves its "fresh off the tree" flavor, which Bjornson combines with fruits, herbs, spices and locally produced honey in small, handcrafted batches. Prices at www.zorbasrawchocolates.com range from $11 for 3-ounce bars to $31 for a dozen truffles. Find Zorba's at seven Ashland locations, as well as Medford Food Co-op.
Local chocolatiers and confectioners are known for innovation. Stout Beer Bites from Pete's Gourmet Confections of Central Point push the definition of sweets with the craft-brewing techniques of owner Peter Croyle. Pete's beer-flavored nougat joins a popular line of old-fashioned marshmallows, produced locally since 2006. Croyle's passions of home brewing and small-scale hop farming culminated this year in the alcohol-free confection of roasted barley, chocolate malt, roasted oats and dark crystal malts. See www.petesgourmet.com to order a 21-piece box for $5.99.
Amid the innovations, sometimes the best are tried-and-true. Sisterfields fruit vinegars and preserves are 20-year-old Rogue Valley mainstays, recently rejuvenated by the owners of MacLevin's Whole Foods Restaurant in Jacksonville. Jeffrey and Penelope Levin purchased Sisterfields and took over production this fall of popular jams, which contain only fruit, sugar and lemon juice, and vinegars simply steeped with whole fruit and sweetened with cane sugar. The raspberry vinegar, a scarce ingredient locally when Sisterfields debuted, remains among the most popular products and can be purchased at Ashland and Medford food co-ops, Ashland Shop 'N Kart, Market of Choice, Food 4 Less and MacLevin's.
A mom-and-pop coffee shop in Ashland has graduated from latte art to curating coffee. Case Coffee started roasting its own beans more than a year ago to serve its tiny cafe across from Southern Oregon University. The 20-something owners' efforts recently were lauded at the Good Food Awards in San Francisco, where Case's Kenya "Gaturiri" coffee made the finals. Produced by a small, sustainable cooperative, the coffee tastes of ruby grapefruit, dark honey and ripe raspberry juice. The Cases recommend brewing using the pour-over method. Purchase 12 ounces of whole beans for $18 at www.casecoffeeroasters.com.
Taste the "love" in sauces, spice rubs and baking mixes sold from a Talent country store. Made With Love Country Kitchens is an ode to Americana, as well as specialty-foods store. Owner Aaron Clanton started baking cookies on a stick for local farmers markets in 2009, expanded to dozens of signature products and stocked his own store last year. Grandma's Praline Syrup is a 140-year-old family recipe containing caramel syrup, brown sugar, maple extract, vanilla, pecans and spices. Buy the 12-ounce bottle for $7 at the store, 155 W. Valley View Road, that's also furnished with cooking utensils and other antiques, many for sale.
The signature sauce of a Grants Pass winery doesn't come from grapes but a cover crop of mustard. Seeds grown without herbicides or pesticides are harvested in July at Troon Vineyard, which is certified LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology). The seeds are ground with estate zinfandel and dry riesling to create about 700 to 800 jars of Troon to Table mustard. The winery sold out after featuring the mustard on its summer menus, but a 3.8-ounce jar can be purchased for $3.90 through the online farmers market, Rogue Valley Local Foods, www.roguevalleylocalfoods.com.
Also staples of the online farmers market, live lettuces, greens and herbs from Rock Field Farms stay fresh all week in one of the Central Point farm's "produce packs." Streamlining salad preparation, the custom-made container allows customers to pick leaves from up to nine live plants for a couple of weeks and also makes an attractive centerpiece. The setup costs $55 — plants included — while a smaller, five-plant version costs $45. See www.rockfieldfarms.net for ordering and delivery information or call 541-899-4110. Rock Field's aquaponic lettuces, chard, kale, herbs, Asian greens and European specialties, like sorrel, cost a few dollars apiece at Rogue Valley Local Foods.
A gift certificate for Rogue Valley Local Foods lets recipients choose from the region's wide array. Click "Gift Certificates" under the "Shop" heading at www.roguevalleylocalfoods.com. Unprocessed products originate within a 100-mile radius of Medford while prepared foods contain a majority of ingredients grown or raised within the same boundary. The market sells produce, meat, eggs, cheese, grains, even body oil, pet supplements and red-wiggler worms for the garden. Customers place an order then pick it up later that week at locations in Ashland, Medford, Central Point, Jacksonville and Grants Pass.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email email@example.com.