Tantalizing Taste

Harry & David brings newcomers on board for 11th annual food and drink event

Featuring more than 20 local, specialty-foods producers, in addition to its own label, Harry & David wants to support the larger community this weekend while polishing its persona.

Taste of Harry & David organizers say they looked to April's Pear A Fare in downtown Medford to rejuvenate their 11th annual event. Among the Pear A Fare's 40 food and beverage companies, Laurie McDonald met with several Rogue Valley up-and-comers that complement Harry & David products.

If you go

What: Taste of Harry & David, 11th annual celebration of specialty foods and beverages, with cooking demonstrations and live music, to help support ACCESS and CASA of Jackson County

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, and Sunday, Sept. 1

Where: Harry & David Country Village, 1314 Center Drive, Medford

Admission: $20 per person per day (includes unlimited food sampling, 12 tastes of wine, beer or cider and commemorative glass), or $15 with donation of five nonperishable food items.

"I'm always looking for something I can bring into the store," says the manager for business-to-business gifting.

For the first time, the gift-fruit giant whose image took a hit during bankruptcy is inviting smaller enterprises to participate in its Labor Day weekend bash. And the public is invited to vote for their favorite foods and beverages.

"This is going to liven it up," says McDonald. "This is what customers are asking for."

A few familiar brands — Rogue Creamery, Taylor's Sausage and numerous local wineries and breweries — will offer samples. But newcomers, such as Popcakes, Rogue Meats, Pomegranate Splash, Seed Oil Company, Rogue Olive Oil Co., TonTon's Artisan Affections and Salinity flavored salts stand to shake up tasters' experience. Some already are stocked at the Country Village while others will be soon, says McDonald, citing Salinity, produced in Grants Pass, as a recent success story.

"It's new; it's different," she says. "It's flying off the shelves."

Inclusion in Harry & David gift baskets can follow an independent product's retail presence at the Country Village, adds McDonald. Rogue Creamery of Central Point and Gary West Artisan Smoked Meats both have enjoyed gift-basket status.

"If it moves here, it's great exposure to the whole company."

Gluten-free is one niche that Harry & David hasn't filled despite strong demand, says McDonald. So Popcakes, TonTon's, Silly Zak's and Sherry's Pasta are naturals for the Country Village, she says.

"Being the flagship store, we can offer that off brand."

Even products that Harry & David comes closer to duplicating, such as toffee by Homemade Confections, Vintner's Kitchen jams and Pomegranate Splash sauces, can help Harry & David evaluate its own line, says McDonald.

"If it's a great product, why not?"

Pomegranate Splash is seeking a manufacturing site since owner Jules Silver moved his seven-year-old company last year from Denver to Talent. Silver says he still is trying to land accounts for his six wine- and spirits-flavored pomegranate reductions, so far carried at Rogue Creamery's cheese shop and sold at www.pomegranatesplash.com.

"It's a sweet-tart flavor," says Silver, explaining that it can be made into cocktails or marinades or used as a condiment.

While Silver says he hopes area food co-ops will pick up Pomegranate Splash, it's ideal for gift baskets or winery tasting rooms. He relocated after he "fell in love" with the area.

"We're looking to do it big here."

The bigger Taste event solicited sponsorships from Grange Co-op, Lithia Motors and Rogue Federal Credit Union. A raffle and canned-food drive are planned to benefit CASA of Jackson County and ACCESS, respectively. Cooking demonstrations with wine pairings by chef Tim Keller are set for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, and live musical acts are booked all day.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

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