Albina City Nuts

Albina City Nuts Scott and Heidi Bell of Albina City Nuts

We're spoiled in the Pacific Northwest; we're so used to the wide availability of local produce, local mushrooms, local cheese and local beer that it's easy to forget there are still many things we like that come from far, far away.

Albina City Nuts was born out of just such a realization. Scott Bell is a former waiter and bartender at the Crystal Ballroom who's now a cheesemonger at the New Seasons Arbor Lodge store in Portland. He traces the genesis of his company to observations gleaned while working the cheese counter: "I'd be looking at all of the jams, nuts and spreads we had and they were all European. I was thinking about that in relation to all of the local cheese we carried and I found myself wishing there were local options." The entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and soon enough, a company was born.

Scott sources products from all over the region, from Northern California to Oregon to Washington (it helps that  Oregon is the largest hazelnut producer in the nation). From there he and wife Heidi work their magic with a variety of spices and honey syrup to craft unique and interesting flavor combinations. Intrigued, I asked Scott about the recipe development process. "We'd make a syrup of honey, sugar and water and then experiment by, say, adding chiles. The syrup would be incredibly spicy but then we'd coat the nuts with the syrup and you'd barely taste the spice." Early experiments such as a rosemary based flavor were rejected by initial testers before they arrived at the three flavors they currently sell (see below for more details on those). "The fun part," Scott says, "is getting to play with different flavors and seeing what works."

Scott and Heidi have been using a commercial kitchen in North Portland one day a week to make their tasty treats (currently producing about 100 lbs. per session) but are looking at increasing production to two days a week soon, just in time for the holidays. Look forward to a number of new and interesting treats in the future including candied hazelnuts and chocolate covered hazelnuts - they've even been tossing around the idea of a chocolate hazelnut spread. Now THAT would be something really, really good!  And whether you like  sweet or savory varieties of nuts, supporting Albina City Nuts is another great way to go local with your food.

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Albina City Nuts 503.956.9141

Currently available at New Seasons, Steve's Cheese and Foster & Dobbs in Portland.


Candied Walnuts

Walnuts kissed with honey and anise - a lovely combination of earthiness and sweetness. I love the anise, which elevates these walnuts a step beyond an ordinary, everyday candied nut.

Sweetly Spiced Almonds

Almonds sweetened with honey and spiced with cinnamon and cardamom. The spice is subtle but pleasant and warms you up right away.

Sweet & Salty Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts with a touch of honey and the added spices from Ancho chili, chili de Arbol and cinnamon. I really enjoy the sweet/salty thing so these nuts worked for me....while I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite of the three styles of nuts, if forced to choose this would be my pick.

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Additional note: In case you're wondering about the name, Albina is an area of North Portland, once a city in its own right, that was annexed into Portland proper in the 1890s.

New and Noteworthy Books

These books aren't, strictly speaking, about cheese but they've come across my desk recently and since I'm a sucker for a good food (or wine) book I thought you, dear reader, might like them, too. Pacific Northwest: Ultimate Winery GuidePacific Northwest: The Ultimate Winery Guide: Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia by Christina Melander with photos by Janis Miglavs Chronicle Books  120 pages $22.95

Worth buying for the gorgeous photographs of Northwest wine country alone, the real heart of this book is its exploration of the region's wineries. As author Christina Melander notes, the book is a guide and jumping off-point for the wine enthusiast. She doesn't pretend to catalog every winery, instead selecting what I might call the 'gems' - thirty wineries that represent the best and brightest of what the Northwest has to offer.

Melander opens the proverbial door to each winery, fleshing out the photographs with behind-the-scenes stories of the people, the places and wines. As a result of her expert guidance, I found this book to be much more interesting and comprehensive than many wine guides which are content to gloss over the basics and move on.  You'll also find a restaurant guide, resource list, glossary and a nice piece on the transformation of grapes into wine. A great introduction to local wine for the novice as well as a handy guide for people interested in understanding more about the region's wine industry.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   * Pure Flavor: 125 Fresh All-American Recipes from the Pacific Northwest by Kurt Beecher Dammeier with Laura Holmes Haddad Clarkson Potter  256 pages  $32.50

Kurt Dammeier, restaurateur and owner of Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Seattle, has transformed into the role of author with this new Northwest inspired cookbook. This is another gorgeously photographed book with lots of enticing shots of the Pike Place Market's mouthwatering fruits, vegetables and seafood to get you in the mood to cook.

The term "northwest" is in danger of becoming a food cliche, so often is it used to signify all that is good, fresh, local and wholesome. This book, however, is firmly rooted in the region and the recipes reflect Dammeier's dexterity with the incredibly bounty of local ingredients like Dungeness Crab, salmon and locally grown fruits and vegetables. Naturally, you'll see Beecher's Cheese appearing throughout the book, most notably in a recipe for Beecher's Mac & Cheese, which readers may have had the opportunity to try if they've visited Beecher's at the Market.

I also enjoyed the occasional pages, sprinkled throughout the book, that profile local food icons like cheesemaker Sally Jackson, winemaker Alex Golitzin (Quilceda Creek Winery) and baker Gwen Bassetti (founder of Grand Central Bakery). These moments pay tribute to the people who are, in large part, responsible for developing and nurturing the food culture in the region - and for laying the groundwork so that innovators like Kurt Dammeier could come along later and work their magic.