I grew up near Portland, Oregon: ripping my jeans on the blackberry bushes that threatened to take over our backyard, heading to the coast to fish for Dungeness crabs, drinking my first espresso at a shop where every night was open mic night. In 2000, I left for college on the East Coast ("back East," as my fellow Oregonians call it, even if they've never been there). These days, I don't get home nearly as much as I'd like, but each time I do, I'm overwhelmed by all the new restaurants and cocktail bars, breweries and distilleries. When I visit, I always leave a little extra room in my suitcase. Sometimes I carry back a bottle of wine or a small-batch gin you can't get anywhere else; other times, I tuck in a paper bag of tiny Oregon truffles from the farmers market. (Careful—they have a way of infusing their scent into socks and shirts.) But you can get a taste of where I'm from without making the trip: Here are six obsession-worthy food and drink souvenirs you can order from the comfort of your computer, whether you're a wayward Oregonian looking for a slice of home or someone who's just curious about what my favorite rainy state has to offer.
Cheese From Rivers Edge Chèvre
This Logsden, Oregon, cheese producer has been raising goats in the foothills of the Coast Range for more than 30 years. I'm in love with their smoked fresh goat cheese, a little round called "Up in Smoke." It's bright, tart, and amazingly creamy, wrapped in a smoked maple leaf that's misted with bourbon. Despite the name, this luscious cheese's smokiness is rather subtle, allowing the tangy flavors of fresh goat's milk to truly shine. The smoke sneaks in toward the finish, like a little bacon that's been hidden in a quiche. I also like Rivers Edge's savory, fudgy-textured "Sunset Bay," which boasts a layer of smoked pimentón in the center. They're available through Rivers Edge and Murray's Cheese.
Drinking Chocolate From Cacao
Portland's Cacao peddles bars and confections from some of the best small-batch chocolate makers around the world. But my favorite item there is their drinking chocolate mix, made from organic, 74% cacao single-plantation chocolate from the Dominican Republic and 68% cacao wild-harvested chocolate from Bolivia. Whisk the ground chocolate with warm milk for an intense cocoa experience: It's silky and deep, with hints of orange zest, cinnamon, and juicy berries, tempered by a subtly bitter edge. Luckily, when you run out, you can buy more online.
Jams From Pennington Farms
A "lusterberry" sounds like something you'd find on the wallpaper in Willy Wonka's factory, but it's actually what happens when boysenberries are crossed with blackberries. Sam and Cathy Pennington propagate and farm them in southern Oregon's Applegate Valley, and cook them into a remarkable jam. It's deep and dark in flavor, like blackberries so ripe they're falling off the vine, but its tart-boysenberry brightness will make your mouth pucker a bit. (The Penningtons also work wonders with their cherry-and-rhubarb jam.) If you're in Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival, it's worth an hour's drive to Pennington Farms for a breakfast of fresh turnovers or an afternoon bite of pie and a haul of assorted preserves. Or contact them online to order.
The Abyss From Deschutes Brewery
Hoppy beers are everywhere in Oregon, and these days, the state has more than its fair share of tasty sours, too. But I'll always have a soft spot for The Abyss, a barrel-aged Imperial Stout from Bend's Deschutes Brewery. Brewed with roasted barley, blackstrap molasses, vanilla beans, licorice, and cherry bark, and aged in a mix of barrels (some of which previously held bourbon and wine), it's one to savor after dinner—basically a cigar, a sip of port, and a bar of dark chocolate all mixed together in a glass. I'd advise holding on to your bottles for at least a year to let the flavors mellow. Seek this out at your best local beer store, or search for it here.
Ginger Liqueur From New Deal Distillery
Ginger liqueurs are often too sweet and mellow to offer any thrill. But this Portland-based distillery's bottling is a different beast. It's the closest thing to gnawing off a hunk of fresh, spicy ginger root. The New Deal team crushes a few hundred pounds of fresh ginger, then infuses it into a grain spirit they distill in batches of 400 liters. On a chilly evening, mix an ounce into a mug of whiskey stirred with honey and hot water (an orange wedge makes a nice addition), or pour some in your lemonade this summer when the weather gets hot. If you're in Portland, try it at the New Deal tasting room; otherwise, you can buy it online here or here.
Coffee Beans From RoseLine Coffee Roasters
The script-y typography on RoseLine's packaging drew me in, but their coffee's just as appealing, especially if you're seeking mellow medium-light roasts. The house roasting style brings out the floral qualities in the coffees they've selected; the best from the assortment I tried comes from the Chelelektu washing station in central-southern Ethiopia. It's almost tea-like, with a citrusy tang and a little jasmine flavor. (Available online.)