Combine tourism with tasting at these Washington food companies where nibbles are free and visitors are welcome.
WALLA WALLA — We were told that the cutout metal goat above the mailbox, just beyond the winery, was the key to finding our destination. Sometimes directions are like that in Eastern Washington.
Sure enough, traveling Highway 12 between Waitsburg and Dayton, we passed Dumas Winery and soon spotted the goat. From there a short, winding gravel road led us to Monteillet Fromagerie.
On an informal “taste of Washington” tour that we began last spring, our Saturday afternoon stop on this 32-acre farm along the Touchet River was not only tasty — we sampled an aged Sauveterre and a fresh herbed Chevre — but interesting. We lingered and visited for more than an hour with the assistant cheese maker from Seattle, an apprentice from Napa Valley and Joan Monteillet, who along with her husband, Pierre-Louis, runs the cheese business.
In 2002, after 20 years of wheat farming, the couple made a midlife career switch; now raising some 40 goats and 40 sheep, producing milk that is turned into some 10 varieties of cheese sold at the farm and at several farmers markets in Oregon and Washington. A patio outside the production facility/tasting room is the perfect spot to watch the flocks while sampling cheese and wine ($10/cheese plate or $15/cheese plate with wine).
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In recent months, our “taste” tour led us to places like the fromagerie to trace the source of some of our “foodie favorites.” We found that tasters and tourists are welcome at:
Aplets & Cotlets, those gelatinous fruit candies with walnuts and powdered sugar, produced since the 1920s by Liberty Orchards, might have put this small town on the map. They are certainly keeping it there with its Highway 97 exits being Aplets Way and Cotlets Way.
You can’t miss the bright red awnings and planter boxes that brighten the production facility and retail store, a block south of the town’s main drag. Nibble free samples while watching a video showing the company’s history and how the candy is produced.
We silenced the cellphone and donned the provided hair nets and set out on the escorted free 20-minute tour. The packing line buzzed with slabs of the chilled candy being cut into bite-sized pieces, powdered, boxed and wrapped — ready to ship to worldwide retail outlets.
Tours: Weekdays 8:40 a.m. — 4:40 p.m.; weekends 10 a.m. — 4:15 p.m. through December. 117 Mission Ave., Cashmere; 800-231-3242 or www.libertyorchards.com.
Cashmere Cider Mill: While in Cashmere, venture a “country mile” farther to sample artisan apple cider infused with fruits and berries and bottled in wine bottles at the Cashmere Cider Mill tasting room on Mission Creek.
Tasting: Thursday — Saturday, 10 a.m. — 5 p.m. through Dec. 15; Sundays, noon — 3 p.m. during harvest season. 5420 Woodring Canyon Road, Cashmere; 866-459-9614 or www.washingtonapplecountry.com.
Darigold: The gargantuan Darigold facility east of Interstate 82 at Sunnyside annually produces some 170 million pounds of Monterey and Cheddar cheese. Free self-guided tours take you to a large viewing area overlooking enormous steel processing equipment; printed signs explain what happens inside. Two continuous loop videos — one for adults and one for kids — provide details of the production process. The ground-floor Dairy Fair ice-cream store and deli, with its bright red tables and black and white checked floor, is a must. We found the tray of free cheese bites near the retail store cash register.
Hours: Retail store, Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. .-6 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. — 6 p.m.; best hours for viewing before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. Take Exit 67 to 400 Alexander Road, Sunnyside; 509-837-4321.
Chukar Cherries, Prosser: Behaving like kids in a candy store might, we finally had to refuse clerk Tami Rafferty’s free samples of a seemingly endless array of these dried-cherry creations topped with dark, white and powdered chocolate, not to mention the white-chocolate blueberries.
For decades this production facility in the heart of Prosser has produced the small fruit candies that can now be found throughout the world. “Pretty much any major airport in any country will have them,” Rafferty said, as she told us about the company’s history and products.
Visiting: No tours of the manufacturing plant; slide show of production in the adjacent retail store. Hours: Monday — Saturday 8 a.m. — 6 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. — 5 p.m. 320 Wine Country Road, Prosser; 800-624-9544 or www.chukar.com.
Seabear: More than 50 years ago fisherman Tom Savidge and his wife, Marie, using their backyard smokehouse, prepared fish that they sold to local taverns. Since then the business has grown to include a variety of smoked Alaskan salmon, fish chowders and bisques among its offerings.
Visitors can sample seafood and tour the commercial smokehouse facility found just a few blocks off Highway 20 in Anacortes. Depending on the time of the visit you might see fish being hand-filleted and prepared for smoking or products being packaged.
Plant tours: 10 a.m. — 2 p.m. Monday — Friday; Video tours on Saturday — Sunday. 605 30th St., Anacortes. 360-230-1082 or www.seabear.com.
Beecher’s Cheese: Two to three vats of cheese are made daily at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and the best time to sneak a peek through large plate-glass windows overlooking the production room is between 10 and 11 a.m.
Store and cafe hours: 9 a.m. — 6 p.m. No tours. 1600 Pike Place, Seattle; 206-956-1964 or www.beecherscheese.com.
Jackie Smith is a Kirkland-based freelance writer who often travels (and tastes things) with her husband, Joel.