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Idaho's Food Scene

IN THIS SECTION


CARNIVOROUS AFFAIRS [pages 2-4]
• It’s 2010, do you know where your meat comes from?
• The Valley’s best burgers

 

CREATIVE CONDIMENTS [pages 5-6]
• Who invented fry sauce?
• The Mustard Lady remembers

 

SUGAR & SPICE [pages 8-9]

 

  ROASTS & BREWS [pages 10-11]

 

SPIRIT QUESTS [pages 12-13]

 

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MEET YOUR MEAT, AND ITS MAKER

Small livestock farmers flood the market

A friend’s recent e-mail arrived with the subject, “Natural Beef,” and the message began with a question: “We are slaughtering some more cattle. Is anyone interested in a half-a-beef or more?”

The meat was raised by Rod Davidson, a friend of a friend, in Adrian, Oregon, and was described as “hormone-free, natural grass-fed and finished (fattened) with Idaho brewery barley.”

I was intrigued by the connections: Davidson’s eastern Oregon cows chewed on the spent mash from a brewery just walking distance from my house in Boise. I called Davidson and quizzed him on the natural history of his cows. Curiosity satisfied, I placed an order. I’d split a half-a-beef, about 250 pounds, with a buddy.

“I want people to eat less meat, too, but I want them to eat mine.”
-Janie Burns, Meadowlark Farm

If 2009 was the year that Americans finally decided to learn where their food comes from, 2010 is the year to know who raised it.

“The most important thing on the label for me is my name and my phone number,” said Janie Burns, who raises grass-fed lamb and pastured poultry at Meadowlark Farm, south of Nampa.



In Idaho, there is a sudden glut of small-scale, all-natural meat producers like Burns. For a state with a strong ranching and farming heritage, perhaps it should come as no surprise. Traditional animal husbandry never left the state, but given the mass horrors of modern industrial feedlots, small farms are more attractive than ever.

Some of this meat is certified organic, some goes beyond organic. There’s good-old “naturally raised,” the foodie-chic “grass-fed” or even conscience-clearing “Animal Welfare Approved.” Davidson said he raises beef “the European way.” Glenn Elzinga at Alderspring Ranch, in the Pahsimeroi Valley between Challis and Salmon, calls his beef “artisanal.” Cheryl Bennett, sales manager at Lava Lake Ranch, which raises organic and natural lamb near Carey, said they just do things the old-fashioned way, “The way meat used to be.”

In Sun Valley, they might call it boutique meat.

By whatever name, Idaho meat-eaters now have access to more information and more choices than ever before. Even vegetarians are finding that personal connections with producers are a compelling reason to return to selective carnivorous activity.

In Nampa, Burns said she has a conversation with a struggling vegetarian about every two weeks.

“I want people to eat less meat, too,” Burns said. “But I want them to eat mine.”

Elzinga considers his connections to his customers a fundamental aspect of the sustainability he practices. He demos his steaks at the Boise Co-op, at Atkinsons’ Market in Ketchum and at select markets in Montana. He said he often catches vegetarians surreptitiously nabbing a bite; they are the ones looking up and down the aisles hoping not to get caught.

Davidson, Elzinga and many other small Idaho producers use Northwest Premium Meats in Nampa to process their beef. The slaughterhouse, which processes up to fifty animals a day, slaughtering them one at a time, was founded by a group of bison ranchers looking for quality custom butchering.

“We can claim a very low stress, very humane method of moving animals to slaughter,” said plant manager Dennis Mason. “People do not want mass-produced, corporate farms. People are demanding to know, ‘Where did these animals come from?’”

That means farmers also know where their animals are going.

Just a few e-mails like the one he sent me and Davidson had buyers for all of his cows, customers with whom he already had a personal connection. He didn’t bill me for my half-a-beef until after I had picked it up and loaded it into my freezer.

“I may or may not make it in this business,” Davidson said. “But I think growing food for people is something that’s going to last in this country.”

-Nathaniel Hoffman

 

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Left: Getting up in Bear’s Grill   Right: Rod Rushton flips a full rack at his uptown station.
Photographs Sara Sheehy

 

TWO GRILLS, TWO MEN, ONE TOWN

Hailey’s dueling grill masters


When the summer dust swirls on Main Street in Hailey, Idaho, two self-styled cowboys stand on opposite ends of town. Each is armed with skewers and tongs, top-secret ingredients, heaps of raw meat and scorching-hot machines that snort smoke and glow red and angry, like balls-cinched rodeo bulls. Both men sweat as they tame their iron beasts with coal and wood chips. They also keep a close eye on the goods: chicken, ribs, sausage and tri-tip, trout, pork, elk and big fat mushrooms.

At the risk of stereotyping the men who guard these flames, one cowboy is just as I expected. He is big and bald and works in a sleeveless tee. He seems kinda mean. He doesn’t want to be my friend; he wants to feed me. His name is Bear, and I instantly love him.

Bear has been grilling for fourteen years and is a proud Hailey local. You can find him in front of L.L. Green’s Hardware store on Thursdays and Fridays, stationed behind his huge double-decker grill. The medieval-looking machine can hold more food than I could eat in a month (and, y’all, I am Southern, and I can eat). It has a rotisserie spit that can pierce a whole hog. Holy-love-it. Fat drips onto a bed of coals, and the steady drip-drip-sizzle is like the sweet sounds of angels in my ears.

The medieval-looking machine can hold more food
than I could eat in a month.

Bear will chat about his choice cuts, his massive double-decker grill and even some of his methods. But his dry rub is another matter. It’s a top-secret concoction and, no, he isn’t going to share.

Meanwhile, just a football field or two uptown, Rod Rushton is “The Barbecue Guy” at the Hailey Farmers’ Market, and his grill is a handcrafted labor of love, complete with steel knobs, wheels, meat spikes and chain-link pulleys. He runs the business with Chance, the shaggy dog who greets every customer. Rushton sports a graying beard, a quick smile and a strong handshake. He knows what his patrons like, such as his smoke-beans—or “crack beans,” as a loyal customer dubbed them when, after three servings, he said he “couldn’t get enough of these beans. They are like crack!” Ergo, crack beans.

Rushton is from Filer, Idaho, and has been grilling around Hailey for three years. When asked if his grill had a name, The Barbecue Guy chuckled at my childishness and said he had not yet christened his masterpiece. Then he thought for a minute and decided on the “Good Chance Grill,” an homage to his greeter, and a man’s best friend, indeed.

Each man has his own unique style and his own fervent fans. But they have a common mission—feed the masses what they crave. When the day is done and another duel comes to an end, each puts away his tools, saddles up his beast and heads home into the sunset.

-Lillie Lancaster

 

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BURGERS WITH CHARACTER

Who makes the best burger in town? It's a fundamental question and still hotly debated. In a quest for the Valley's very best, we submitted ourselves to a rigorous schedule of testing and tasting, from Ketchum to Bellevue. Here’s a guide to some of the mouth-watering concoctions we discovered—burgers with character and zip that never disappoint.

CLICK • PRINT • SAVE - Exclusive Online Coupons
 

When the proper bun,
is your dinnertime canvas,
the burger is art.

 

 

DEFINING
CHARACTERISTICS

TRY IT WITH

KETCHUM
GRILL’D

[ketchum grill]
 

Best enjoyed with a large glass of Syrah or Malbec at the bar. We love the little ramikens of extras—homemade onion confit, ketchup and even one for fancy mustard (if that’s your thing).
Add fontina or gorgonzola cheese. And remember that Scott Mason is a true steak chef—so rare means rare.

JUICY-LUCY
[mahoneys]
 

Use extreme caution! Molten cheese flows from the center of this clever burger. Even though the original recipe was born near Minneapolis, this Bellevue burger is already a Valley standard.  
Grilled onions and, though it may be a bit decadent, extra cheese on top.

CHALLAH POWER 
[power house] 

 When it comes to high-end burgers, less can be more. This one-third-pound of Niman Ranch grass-fed beef goes a long way on a fluffy Bigwood Bread challah bun with mayo, mustard, tomato, onion and fresh lettuce greens.
Burger and a bike tune? It's a novel but practical concept. Drop off the bike, grab one of dozens of top-shelf imported beers and grub down.

THE 9-OUNCER
[sego]

Big, bold and smoky, it's a gourmet burger for a serious appetite. Grass-fed top sirloin (not your average chop meat) from the Mesquite Cattle Company is house-ground into a formidable patty served on a hearty, salty pretzel bun.
The wood block-plate comes with little piles of balsamic caramelized onions, pickles and zesty tomato jam and one big pile of fries. Add Ballard cheddar or Rogue smoky blue cheese.

KOBE-STYLE 
[sun valley co.] 

Snake River Farms is Idaho's only Wagyu beef ranch (the first Japanese cattle were imported in 1988) and Sun Valley is Idaho's original resort. The classiest destination in America is a natural place to try this Idaho original.
If you're in a snacking mood, try a Kobe-style slider at Gretchen's in the Sun Valley Lodge, or a half-pounder at the Sun Valley Clubhouse.  

 IN-HOUSE
GRIND

[three-ten-main]

This little house in Hailey does its burger gourmet-style. The combo of house-ground Double R Ranch ribeye and sirloin provides the richness of steak with a hint of spicy zip. Complemented by a red onion relish and house-baked cornmeal bun.
Chef Derek Gallegos cures his own meats, so the bacon is a sure thing. For extra locavore points, try the deliciously tangy Oregonzola blue cheese.  

 

 The Graphics Burger

If it’s good enough for our designers, it’s good enough for you.

Recipe by SVM graphic designer,
Charlotte Hemmings.

 

Ingredients:

-Ground beef
(grass-fed, 20 percent lean)
-1 free-range egg
(the “glue”)
-plain bread crumbs
(to absorb excess moisture)
-Worchestershire sauce
-White onion, minced as small as possible
(to keep burger dense and intact on the grill)
-Flat-Leaf parsley, finely chopped
(to cut onion acid and for intrigue)
-Garlic salt
-pinch cayenne pepper or other heat
-Fresh ground black pepper
-Potato buns
 

Mix ingredients by hand for desired consistency and flavor balance. Roll into a ball and press down on cutting board to get the right thickness. Grind pepper onto a clean plate (you can improvise here with seasoned salts as well) and roll each patty’s edges in the pepper. Grill to your liking.

 

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PRETTY IN PINK

Who invented fry sauce?


The fries at Grumpy’s always come up hot and fast. It’s what goes on them that counts.

There’s always the standard yellow and red squeeze bottles. But at this thirty-year-old burger-n-beer joint in Ketchum, they suggest a third, pink option. Just don’t call it fry sauce.

“It’s secret sauce! They call it ‘fry sauce’ at Arctic Circles in Utah,” barked owner Pete Prekeges. A photo behind the Grumpy’s bar shows a wide-eyed Moe from the Three Stooges, his nose buried in a massive book titled “Grumpy’s Secret Sauce.”

Most Americans dip their French fries in ketchup. But like a Briton takes her chips with a splash of vinegar and a Belgian eats pommes frites with mayonnaise, fry sauce is king in Idaho. Widely available throughout Utah, Idaho and remote outposts of the Intermountain West, the tangy pink goop elicits strange looks from outsiders and strong feelings from enthusiasts.

“It’s not the ingredients that are secret; it’s the ratios.”
-Pete Prekeges

“It’s kind of like a cult,” said Gary Roberts, president and CEO of Arctic Circle, the franchise credited for spreading the ubiquitous dip. “I probably get three people a week who lived in Utah or Idaho, moved away and miss fry sauce. I’ve sent fry sauce to probably every state, and I’ve sent some to France and England and Germany.”

What has become a 150,000-gallon-per-year staple for Arctic Circle began with Preston, Idaho-native Don Carlos Edwards. Edwards ran a traveling food cart and followed carnivals around the West serving up hot dogs, French fries and chicken. He eventually set up shop in Utah as Don Carlos Bar-B-Q and later as Arctic Circle, which has served fry sauce since 1948. Few argue with Edwards as the originator, but that doesn’t stop others from laying their claims.

At Grumpy’s, Prekeges’ fry sauce recipe is secret, and he won’t trust a new employee with the recipe until she has been on the job for at least three months. Nevertheless, a good starting point is two parts mayonnaise to one part ketchup. Variations include adding a splash of buttermilk to thin it out, honey to sweeten or a little pickle juice to boost the tang. For more daring epicureans, barbecue sauce or a couple shakes of hot sauce can spice things up.

“It’s not the ingredients that are secret; it’s the ratios,” Prekeges said. “And there’s something about food service mayo. It’s thicker and better tasting. You can’t make this at home.”

-Debbie Hummel
Photograph Five B Studios

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IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS MUSTARD

A Valley icon started with a dream and a garage


It was the spring of 1984.

Hoping not to attract attention, I walked into the Christiania Restaurant and settled on a bar stool. I was wearing my work: splatters of mustard from my hair to my dirty white sneakers.

Archie, the friendly bartender, asked what I’d like.

“How much for a beer?” I asked, dumping out my little change purse.

“That’s all right,” he said. “What would you like?”

He brought me a cold Budweiser and asked, “Are you new in town?”

I told him my current quest and why I smelled of Eau du Mustard.

Inspired by a friend’s recipe, I was attempting to produce and sell a fabulous gourmet spread. When my kids went off to college, I wanted to change my life, and this was it. I would call it Sun Valley Mustard. We bought a place on Warm Springs Road and converted the single-car garage into the mustard factory.

That day, things hadn’t gone so well—two batches of mustard failed the taste test. But I felt I would have a winner soon.

“You’ll get the first jar, Archie,” I promised.

“OK. We’ll trade for a Bud. Good luck, Lois.”

When my kids went off to college, I wanted to change my life, and this was it. I would call it Sun Valley Mustard.

In the beginning, most of the ingredients were supplied by Atkinsons’ Market, my first and most successful account. Not only did they give me display space, the deli always offered Sun Valley Mustard on sandwich orders. (And they still do.)

I was told I’d do anything to sell a jar of mustard. Guilty as charged; I passed out jars to stores, restaurants and even at parties. On Fridays, in the back of Atkinsons’, I did food demos dressed in seasonal costumes and lured hungry customers with crackers, a dab of mustard and a sliver of cheese.

For the 1985 Wagon Days parade, I was a walking jar of mustard: blue wig, gold face with flames painted around my mouth, a blue sweatshirt and tights, boots and a red cowboy hat. My friend’s dog led the way wearing a hotdog placard. We were a hit, and if I wasn’t known as such before, that day I officially became “The Mustard Lady.”

-Lois F. Allison

Allison sold the company in 1990. Present-day owner Latham Williams runs a modern operation, “with an 800-number and all,” Allison said. Sun Valley Mustard is available at stores throughout the Valley.

 

Photograph Five B Studios

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Kathryn and Connie Fawcett sell out fast at the Ketchum Farmers Market.
Photograph Dev Khalsa

THE PIE LADIES

The Brick Oven Bakery’s Connie and Kathryn Fawcett

 
Fifteen years ago, Connie Fawcett had a formula for farmers market success: a simple booth, a smiling woman on a summer’s day and . . . really delicious hot chocolate mix. That was the idea, at any rate. There was just one problem: No one buys hot chocolate mix in the summer.

Mark Cook, who was then in charge of the Hailey Farmers Market, suggested something different.

“Maybe he thought because I was a Mennonite I knew how to bake,” Fawcett recalled. “The truth is, I’d never really made pie in my life.”

Nonetheless, she and her family decided to experiment and rented a defunct pizza parlor in Buhl with an enormous brick oven. “That’s how

I fell in love with brick-oven baking,” she said. “It maintains the heat evenly and makes a nice brown crust.”

“Pie makes people happy, and it’s fun to do something for someone like that. ”
-Connie Fawcett

Today, Brick Oven Bakery’s pies are among the most sought-after goods at farmers markets in the Wood River Valley and Boise.

The crust was the easy part. Getting the right proportions of fruit, sugar and thickener took more trial and error. Finding high-quality fruits took longer still.

“Rhubarb comes from a friend’s garden, and everyone in Buhl knows that when it’s apricot season, we’ll come pick whatever they can spare from their trees,” Fawcett said. The rest—berries, cherries, peaches and apples—are flash-frozen to ensure a consistent, high-quality supply.

If it’s a Monday or Friday morning in high summer, Fawcett is joined in her bustling kitchen by her daughters and daughters-in-law, and the five women set to work in a well-choreographed routine. By mid-afternoon on pie-making day, 250 pies will have been stacked on racks, and baking will continue past midnight, with fourteen pies at a time vanishing into the brick oven’s sturdy maw.

On Tuesdays, Connie and her daughter Kathryn drive twenty-dozen pies to the Ketchum Farmers Market, where they are consistently rewarded with long lines. The Fawcetts know they have a success on their well-floured hands. They see it in the faces and smiles of customers who’ve become friends. “Pie makes people happy,” Connie Fawcett said simply. “And it’s fun to do something for someone
like that.”

-Pamela Mason Davey

 

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A RISING COMMUNITY

Does your sweet tooth have cravings? Maybe it hankers after fine epicurean confections. Or just a cookie. Whether you’re after a brioche à tête or a homemade snickerdoodle, the Wood River Valley’s small loving bakeries can fill your sweet desires.

 

Lynndee’s:
Ketchum Comfort Food

For the classics, the best bet is Lynndee’s Bakery. Lyndee’s is an old Ketchum standby; three different owners have been baking in the same small shack behind Chapter One Books since opening in 1975. The current owner, Jim Beckdolt, moved to Ketchum in 1988 to ski and said that the art of baking found him. These days, Beckdolt bakes fresh daily cookies, cakes and muffins just-like-mom-made for Atkinsons’ Markets, Albertsons, Tully’s and Wrap City.
 


Simple Kneads:
Extraordinary Goods

Mari Wania is the mastermind behind Hailey’s Simple Kneads. In a narrow garage-turned-bakery, she experiments with recipes to create the healthiest and tastiest all-organic, all-natural breads, sweets and granolas. The menu changes weekly, but if luck is on your side, you may catch a batch of apple-sauce-stuffed cinnamon rolls or old-fashioned English muffins, each hand cut with a traditional glass muffin cutter. Find these wholesome treats at Atkinsons’ Markets.
 


Rolling in Dough:
The New Act in Town

Rolling in Dough is Ketchum’s newest bakery, and it’s already known for the rich tastes and bold aromas of fine European pastries. Elbow-deep in a fresh batch of scones, owner Nancy Rutherford is a blur of action in her open kitchen while you idly nibble on a buttery croissant, danish or torte. Living in one ski town or another since her teens, Rutherford settled in Ketchum after a European pastry tour. In addition to her new shop on 7th Street and Warm Springs Road, you can find Rolling in Dough’s products at Atkinsons’ Markets, the Ketchum and Hailey Farmers Markets and year-round through Idaho’s Bounty.
 


Cristina’s:
Classy Cookies

“Most people forget we are a bakery, too,” said Cristina Ceccatelli Cook of Cristina’s Restaurant and Bakery. Since 1993, she has provided the Valley with a first-rate pasticceria, the traditional Italian pastry shop. She describes her creations as “Not very sweet, and not very layered, in the European style.” Stop in for an espresso, some sumptuous macaroons or traditional biscotti on 2nd Street in Ketchum.

-Sara Sheehy
Photograph Five B Studios

 

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THE BEAN SCENE

Starbuck’s beware: you’ve got some homegrown competition in Idaho. Coffee roasting is both an art and a science; a dance of time, temperature and airflow, and Idaho’s small roasters have it dialed in.

-Ellen Bodal

 

Grace Organics, Hailey

Britt Peterson’s family was roasting for twenty years before she launched her own company in 2006. She sells heaps of the dark and nutty French Roast, but her local customers have made her Hailey’s Comet blend the Valley’s preferred cup.

 


Hailey Coffee Company

Chief roaster Todd Emerick uses the Sivetz hot air method to roast his popular blends, including Taza de Valle, or “Cup of the Valley,” a signature organic espresso. To keep their perishables freshest, Hailey Coffee Co. recommends freezing their beans. Owner Carrie Morgridge said it’s her customers’ questions and compliments about their roasting that keeps business going strong.
 


Lizzy’s Fresh Coffee, Ketchum

Running her upstart company, Liz Roquet is busy, so she uses a Diedrich roaster that can be programmed for various beans’ roasting profiles. This way, she can take care of the rest of her business while her all-organic beans take care of themselves. Roquet is also a firm believer in long-lasting roasts. Like any baked good, coffee has an expiration date. To preserve her beans, Roquet lets them rest anywhere from four hours to three days so the beans can de-gas, a process where beans release carbon dioxide, and, allegedly, achieve their fullest flavor potential. Her Bad Dog blend is a smoky, dark roast which Roquet said was designed “to please IT professionals everywhere.”
 


Zaney’s, Hailey

Sue Martin wants to know everything about her coffee beans: At what altitude are they grown? How are the workers treated? “I want the story behind the estate and their beans,” the Zaney’s owner said. “I want to know there is integrity in their production.” Zaney’s only chooses beans grown above 6,000 feet—the mountain chill creates a hard and consistently sized bean. “Bits of broken beans can burn and taint an entire roast,” she said. “With our estates, I hardly ever see a broken bean.” The result? Consistently good, rich-tasting coffee.
 


White Cloud Coffee, Boise

Jerome Eberharter, founder of White Cloud, said his Sivetz hot air roaster avoids burning and produces an overall cleaner bean. The number of bean blends out there can be dizzying. A White Cloud favorite is the Sun Valley blend, which sports the fitting tag line, “Rich but not arrogant.”

 

 

GET YOUR BEANS

Grace Organics, White Cloud Coffee and Lizzy’s Fresh Coffee are all available at Atkinsons’ Markets in Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue. Lizzy’s sells online at www.lizzysfreshcoffee.com. Grace Organics are available at Bravo, the Iconoclast Café, CIRO and Elkhorn Markets and online at www.graceorganics.com. In addtion, you can find White Cloud Coffee at Albertsons in Hailey. Hailey Coffee Company roasts are served at their café, at numerous local restaurants including Perry’s, CIRO, Cristina’s and Fresshie’s, and can be found at Albertsons and the Bellevue Atkinsons’ Market. Zaney’s beans can be purchased at Ketchum Kitchens and at Zaney’s River Street Coffee House in Hailey.

 

 Photograph Five B Studios

 

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ROOT AWAKENINGS

BuckSnort is Bellevue’s native root beer

 
What is root beer anyway?

Kainoa Lopez and Sarah Kolash, brewers of BuckSnort Root Beer, believe people too often think small when it comes to soda, and they intend to make theirs a regional specialty. BuckSnort, brewed in Bellevue, Idaho, blends molasses, cane juice, wintergreen and natural roots like licorice and a sassafras extract.

“People are so excited to see our display of ingredients,” which the couple presents in glass jars at the Ketchum Farmers Market. While they don’t dig up the bark and root fragments themselves, the verifiable plant material highlights root beer’s natural origins. “So many people have forgotten that this drink is a tea,” Kolash said, and more than a few customers have lingered in her enlightening presence, reminiscing about grandparents’ garage concoctions. And some will be relieved to see nary a drop of corn syrup.

Root beer is a fully American drink, and its history is intertwined with beer’s development in the New World. When barley and hops were not readily available, the search was on for other sweet and bitter tastes. Molasses and cane sugar came into the picture, as did New World plants, like the sarsaparilla and sassafras roots. Yeast was used to carbonate the drink, as was bubbly spring water.

“So many people have forgotten that this drink is a tea.”
-Sarah Kolash

In modern day Bellevue, BuckSnort’s flavor profile is still evolving, but they plan to steer clear of more mainstream vanilla-centric root beer flavors. The name, meanwhile, conjures images of central Idaho’s invigorating mountain culture, or the rip-snorting strength and beauty of a wild buck.

BuckSnort is force-carbonated in kegs and available on tap only (soda fountains use a concoction of syrup and water). This summer, Lopez and Kolash will be on the road, bringing their brew to festivals across southern Idaho. You can find BuckSnort at the Capital City Public Market on Boise’s Eight Street every Saturday, on tap at McClain’s Pizzeria and the Wicked Spud in Hailey, and at the Ketchum Farmers Market every Tuesday. A future in bottles remains unknown.

-Lynea Newcomer
Photograph Five B Studios

 

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EYES EARTHWARD

Hunting the elusive morel

 
Meet me where the sun doesn’t shine. In spring, I’ll be 3,000 feet up, popping my wrinkled head out of soil that’s just right. By July, strap on your hiking boots and hasten the chase; I’ll be 10,000 feet up, hiding among the pine needles. Unless, of course, I just don’t feel like it.

Thus speaks the mysterious morel. For Idaho’s eager mushroom hunters, the morel provides one of nature’s ultimate scavenger hunts, a quest that can start in Boise and finish three months later, panting and tired, in the Sawtooth’s alpine lakes. Now that is an epic fungus hunt.

Kathy Richmond, of the Southern Idaho Mycological Association, has some advice. “Shady areas on north or east facing slopes are good starting places,” she said. “The first year after a forest fire will create a flush of morels, but that will drop off precipitously the following years as the soil’s nutrients will be largely used up.” Richmond has found morels where the water meets sand along the Salmon River and in various spots along the Big Wood River. But morels are happiest amid wood debris and trees, which means a new layer of mulch around a downtown apartment complex may yield surprises.

Those curious souls who love being outside and getting filthy should begin hunting in the south Wood River Valley in late May, especially after a rainfall. With eyes earthward, you may look up at some point and realize you are completely lost. Recruit a partner and identify landmarks, or maybe work on your whistling. You won’t want to be lost in the woods with nothing but your stash of raw mushrooms for sustenance; morels should always be cooked.

For Idaho’s eager mushroom hunters, the morel provides one of nature’s ultimate scavenger hunts.

Richmond said hunters should learn to distinguish between blond and black edible varieties (Morchella esculenta and Morchella elata, respectively), as well as false morels, which can accumulate dangerous toxins in the human body. For the novice hunter, she recommended hauling along a copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms.

Complete your morel spirit quest by cooking and devouring these earthy delights. Rise them thoroughly first and, if you have a real bounty, try drying them. Some morel fans believe that dehydrated morels are even more flavorful.

-Lynea Newcomer

 

 

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SPIRIT OF THE LAND

Distilleries put a new spin on the spud

 
Ski towns are famous for hard-partying ways. But when it comes to actually making the booze that ski bums and cowboys tip back, Idaho’s potato vodka doesn’t exactly rank up there with Tennessee bourbon. And yet, our state is home to the largest commercial distillery west of the Mississippi, an artisan liquor producer trained in the Tyrolean Alps and the first distillery pub ever opened in the United States. When it comes to producing sophisticated spirits, Idaho is earning bragging rights.

 

The Restaurateur

It’s a capital city institution, but Boise’s Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery opened on downtown’s Basque Block just ten years ago. Owner Kevin Settles remembers it well: 1999 was the year he successfully helped change Idaho law to allow the distilling of spirits in a public place and, in 2000, when Bardenay opened, he became the owner of the first distillery pub in the country. Settles credits his customers with helping him devise creative new cocktails. Find your way to a homemade gin and tonic at one of three of Bardenay’s locations in Boise, Eagle or Coeur d’Alene.
 


Crafting Spirits the Tyrolean Way

After his apprenticeship at the 400-year-old Erber Distillery in the Austrian Tyrolean Alps, Ketchum-native Andrew Koenig brought his skills stateside and launched Koenig Distillery in Caldwell, Idaho, west of Boise. Using ingredients from within Idaho’s borders, his craft distillery produces six flavors of fruit brandy as well as one potato vodka. He flavors his huckleberry vodka with wild mountain berries hand-picked in northern Idaho. Koenig Distillery is open for tours and tastings Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m.
 


Custom Distilling House

Gray Ottley of Distilled Resources, Inc. (DRInc) should take some credit for keeping the Idaho potato famous. Ottley said his commercial distillery near Rigby, Idaho, is the largest west of the Mississippi, and home to award-winning potato vodkas including 44 North Vodka and Blue Ice Potato Vodka.

It takes nine and a half pounds of famous russet potatoes to make one 750-milliliter bottle of spirits. The result is delightfully smooth, consistently high-ranking vodka.

To sample this premium home state hooch, pick up a bottle of Blue Ice or Square One Botanical Vodka, which is made from organic Idaho rye.

-Sarah Sheehy



 

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