by Allen Cox / Photo © Yakima Valley Tourism
It’s undeniable. The Northwest is a leader among leaders when it comes to passion for great food. Call it “farm-to table,” “field-to-fork” or just plain fresh foods elevated by those who place it on a culinary pedestal, local Northwest foods have gained our—and the nation’s—attention. One of the most richly productive sources of local ingredients is Washington’s Yakima Valley, an area just east of the Cascade Range that’s barely more than a 2-hour drive from Seattle and 3 hours from Portland. What puts Yakima Valley on the culinary map? Extremely fertile soil, an extensive irrigation system, 290 days of sunshine a year, only 8 inches of annual rainfall and the greatest variety of fresh produce in the Northwest.
Yakima Valley has evolved into one of the most “agripolitan” regions of the Northwest—as the term implies, a hybrid of agricultural and metropolitan cultures—making it a joy to visit for both serious foodies and the merely curious.
When you visit, you have an array of ways to approach the Yakima Valley food scene. A stop that’s fun for the family is Washington Fruit Place at Barrett Orchards. Here, you’ll find not only a representative sampling of Yakima Valley fruit, from cherries and apricots to apples and peaches, but but also gifts and gourmet foods.
One of the best ways to see what’s popping up from the fields is to plan a farm visit itinerary. You can work alongside a farmer, pick your own fruit and produce, pet the farm animals or attend one of many local farm festivals. An excellent online resource will get you started planning your farm activities and itinerary. Go to visitfarmfreshfun.com to learn when specific crops are harvested, which farms welcome visitors, where to go for u-pick, and where and when to find farmers markets and farm festivals. Depending on the variety of produce, the harvest season runs from April into November. Once you arrive in Yakima, it’s a good idea to begin your itinerary at the Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center at 101 North Fair Avenue, Yakima.
“Yakima Made” (yakimavalleymade.com) is a trail-blazing program designed to connect locals and visitors with farmers and artisans of the Yakima Valley. The Yakima Made food growers and producers welcome people stopping by to learn where our food comes from and to sample the fruits of their labor. Producers include Tree Top, Chukar Cherries, Liberty Bottleworks, Mick’s Pepper Jelly, Copper Pot Caramels, Apres Vin and others.
All that fresh-off-the-farm food isn’t just shipped out of the valley. Much of it makes its way to the kitchens of Yakima’s growing community of chefs. Downtown, you’ll find excellent fare at 5North (fivenorth.net), showcasing locally grown produce, meats and other ingredients artfully combined into satisfying dishes. In the modern atmosphere of Cowiche Canyon Kitchen + Icehouse (cowichecanyon.com), you’ll dine on elevated comfort food, again, crafted with the best local bounty. Or foray into the Yakima Valley countryside for the dining experience at Birchfield Manor (birchfieldmanor.com), where you’ll enjoy sophisticated local fare created by second-generation chef Brad Massett.
No foodie excursion to Yakima is complete without making an appearance at a brewery, distillery and winery. Of course, in this viticultural valley of more than 80 wineries, finding a bad wine is a challenge. You can customize your own wine tour with the online mapping tool at yakimavalleywinecountry.com/yakima-wine-maps.asp. When it comes to beer, understand that you are in one of the world’s most prolific hop-growing regions, so why not visit a craft brewery that grows their own hops. Sample the brews at Bale Breaker Brewing Company (www.balebreaker.com), located in the middle of hop fields run by fourth-generation hops farmers. For a spirited expression of the valley’s prolific fruit harvest, visit none other than Glacier Basin Distillery (glacierbasin.com) and sample their trio of hand-crafted brandies: Kirschwasser cherry, apple and grappa. Or go online and learn how to follow Yakima Valley’s own Spirits and Hops Trail at spiritsandhopstrail.com.
The best way to nosh your way through the Yakima Valley is over the course of a few days. There’s plenty of lodging; good choices include Birchfield Manor (birchfieldmanor.com), Hilton Garden Inn – Downtown Yakima (hiltongardeninn3.hilton.com) and Rosedell Bed & Breakfast (rosedellbb.com).
A great resource for planning your trip to Yakima Valley is Yakima Valley Tourism’s website: visityakima.com.