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 email@example.com
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.