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September 18th, 2013 RICHARD GRUNERT | Food Reviews & Stories
 

The Portland of Milk and Honey

As Feast presents the Rose City as foodie paradise, we taste-test the appropriate foodstuffs.

dish_milk_3946IMAGE: Zak Eidsvoog

Milk

It can be surprisingly hard to find local milk. Supermarket shelves are lined with dairy from megafarms in Wisconsin and Ohio, but what if you want something from a local megafarm? We wanted to find the best Oregon milk in a blind taste-off. We grabbed six brands of 2 percent milk—keeping a hint of that good, fatty flavor—and scored them on a 100-point scale.


Garry’s Meadow Fresh
83 points ($4, available at City Market)

Garry’s is sold in glass bottles with little globs of white fat stuck to the cap. So shake it. Pasteurized but not homogenized, this white gold comes from Jersey cows, whose milk naturally contains more protein and calcium than milk from other cows. Even in a blind tasting, this milk stands out for it’s thickness and freshness. It’s produced by Lady-Lane Farm in Mulino, just south of Oregon City, and is also sold at Portland farmers markets.

Tasting notes:

“It’s the milkiest! Straight-up milk fat, which is basically awesome.”

“Really farmy, but great.”


Horizon Organic
74.25 ($3.79, available at Fred Meyer)

It’s odorless and has a perfect aftertaste that reminds you of string cheese—in a good way. Horizon is a nationwide group of dairy farmers, but the milk we get in Oregon comes from Oregon farms.

Tasting notes:

“Nice, creamy and comforting. No offensive initial shock to the palate or aftertaste.”

“This one tastes more farmy, fatty, grassy—like an Iowa football player.”


Organic Valley
65.25 ($3.89, available at Fred Meyer)

It has a cheesy smell and taste that makes it seem like the dairy got only halfway in the cheesemaking process and stuck the result in a milk carton. The Organic Valley milk we get in Portland comes from farms in Boring and Aurora.

Tasting notes:

“Tastes like the cardboard box that a block of Philadelphia Cream Cheese came in.”

“Tastes like paper. By the third sip, it tastes like spitballs.”


Sunshine Dairy Foods
61.25 ($1.19, available at Food Front)

Sunshine, which uses milk from cows in the Willamette Valley and Washington’s Yakima Valley, has a sour smell and aftertaste.

Tasting notes:

“There’s an unpleasant buttery popcorn flavor.”

“Watery, tasteless until the aftertaste hits you.”


Alpenrose Dairy
61 ($1.50, available at City Market)

This family-owned, Portland-based dairy sells milk with a mild aroma and a plain, grassy aftertaste. It’s sweet enough to substitute for a spoonful of sugar on your cereal.

Tasting notes:

“Way too sweet. It tastes like I already ate the Froot Loops, and this is what’s left.”

“Extremely sweet, extremely bland.”


Darigold
56 ($2.49, available at Safeway)

It has an extremely sweet smell and taste, but no discernible aftertaste. Darigold is one of the largest dairy farmer co-ops in the nation, and is based in Seattle.

Tasting notes:

“If happy cows come from California, sad cows come from Oregon.”

“Sucks all the moisture out of my mouth.” 


Honey

Honey is bee vomit. The little buzzers suck up nectar from various plants and spit it into honeycomb to ripen. And, like vomit, the look and taste of a batch depends entirely on what the bees eat.

The flavor of syrupy golden honey depends on where a particular hive’s bees harvested their nectar. Getting the most distinctive flavor of an area is the concept behind Bee Local, a Portland company that harvests from beehives in 11 Portland neighborhoods. It’s a unique offering, says founder Damian Magista. “Most people just mix all their honey together,” he says. “Anyone else, they’re just hobbyists or only have one [hive] location.”

Bee Local’s honey is not cheap—an 8.6-ounce jar costs $15—but, as we found from a blind tasting of six Oregon honeys, it is damned good. And also bad. Bee Local’s first- and last-place showings in our taste-off proved the company’s point: location matters.


Bee Local Portland Farmland
83.5 points ($15)

The clear winner, Bee Local’s Portland Farmland flavor is exactly what honey should be. It’s the color of grade-A maple syrup and has a nice, strong blueberry flavor. “Portland Farmland,” according to Magista, lies somewhere in Pleasant Valley (on the restive Portland-Clackistani border), and the flavor is the product of the entire neighborhood. The bees’ nectar comes from “the flowers in everybody’s garden and the natural trees in the area,” Magista says. “We harvest early in the season, before blackberries bloom. Most other honeys have blackberry nectar in them—blackberry’s flavor is overpowering.”

Tasting notes:

“Nice consistency with a mild taste. Would be great for tea.”

“Very floral. Kind of smells like the flower section of Fred Meyer, which is right by the bakery. It has a lot going on.”


My Local Honey
64.25 ($7.99)

This murky, very neutral honey is collected from both Oregon and Washington. It had a less distinctive flavor than others, and managed to buzz its way into our No. 2 spot with middling scores across the board. Best used in cooking or on a sandwich.

Tasting notes:

“Thick, uncomplicated, light flavor.”

“Much thicker than normal honey, more like a honey spread. Gritty.”


Wessels Family Honey
63.75 ($5.49)

By far the sweetest honey in our taste-off, this Forest Grove product is deep amber and has pollen stuck to the sides of the jar. Thick and viscous, it has an extremely sweet, hazelnut-inflected flavor. 

Tasting notes:

“Hazelnutty, almost sweet, like a fancy, sophisticated marshmallow jelly.”

“Has a foamy head; would knock a bee dead with how sweet this is.”


Oregon Growers & Shippers Wildflower Honey
55.5 ($11.99)

Murky, but light, this “raw and unfiltered” honey from Hood River proves that just because your flowers are wild, your flavor isn’t. Many of our tasters reported that they couldn’t detect any discernible flavor.

Tasting notes:

“Tastes like it was made by flies, not bees.”

“Thick and ugly, plastic-y yellow color. Not very tasty at all; sort of a slushy lavender flavor.”


GloryBee Raspberry
55.5 ($6.49)

It’s cute because it comes in a bottle the shape of a bear, right? The back of this Eugene company’s bottle says it’s made of nectar from “the raspberry patches of the Pacific Northwest.” But raspberry nectar, as it turns out, tastes nothing like raspberries.

Tasting notes:

“Utterly generic.”

“It’s like riding home on the bus after eating a honey sandwich.”


Bee Local Mt. Hood
49.37 ($15)

This offering from Bee Local proves the company’s point—location matters. At $15 for 8.6 ounces, this honey is pricey and unpleasantly sugary. Much darker than the Portland Farmland flavor and much less tasty—apparently Mount Hood’s pine trees don’t do much for honey.

Tasting notes:

“Like Fun Dip synthetic grape flavor.”

“Too sugary, like the candy I ate when I was 6. Overpowering.” 

 
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