The northeastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula is one of Washington’s breadbaskets. Sandwiched between the Olympic Mountains and the ocean, it’s an ideal place for crops to flourish. The area has always been a bountiful farmland.
The abundance of cideries, wineries, creameries, berry and shellfish farms and farm-to-table restaurants in Jefferson County isn’t just due to the good growing conditions. It’s because the peninsula is a place that attracts makers. Talk to any winemaker, cheesemonger or berry farmer in the region and they’ll tell you the same thing. There’s no better place to live or run a business than this little corner of Washington. It may only be an hour from Seattle, but it feels worlds apart. Take the Hood Canal Bridge or the Coupeville Ferry to find the reason so many artisans call Port Townsend, Port Ludlow and Chimacum home.
Cider making is king in this part of Washington. Hit the Cider Route to really get a taste of what this region is all about. The first stop is Finnriver Farm & Cidery; be warned, you could spend all day here.
Finnriver is the epitome of what this region is all about: authenticity, a love for the land and makers coming together. The farm and cidery truly is an experience. At the heart of it all is a large patio where visitors are often times serenaded by live music and where people come to gather. Start your day with an orchard tour and tasting. Your knowledgeable guide will stroll through the orchards with you, telling you about the history of the farm, how the cider is made and the many different organizations using the land. These organizations include the Organic Seed Alliance who are developing sustainable heirloom seeds and the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, focused on rehabilitation of the area’s rivers to protect local salmon populations.
Along the way, you’ll get to taste six of Finnriver’s handcrafted ciders and fruit wines. As you sip the ciders, you’ll feel the same connection to the land so many local makers do. After your cider tasting, grab a bite to eat from the vendors located right on the farm. There’s Hamma Hamma Oyster Company, shucking and serving locally grown, Hood Canal oysters out of an old tin silo. There’s Dented Buoy, serving wood-fired pizza, cooked inside a reclaimed marine buoy, topped with seasonal ingredients. Or, stop by the Finnriver Kitchen for seasonal farm-to-table fare. The tasting room offers more pours to go with your food.
The Cider Route continues with Eaglemount Cider and Winery, which also produces wine and mead, and Alpenfire Cider, the pioneer of organic cider in the Pacific Northwest. Owners Nancy and Steve “Bear” Bishop farmed the land and crushed cider long before the craft cider revolution began. Hit all three stops in one day or break it up by visiting other local makers on the peninsula.
If you still haven’t gotten your fill of cider, the annual Olympic Peninsula Apple and Cider Fest is the event for you. Held in October, the festival draws cider makers from all over to celebrate the crush. It’s a celebration of everything apple with 40-plus ciders on tap, food trucks, live music and more. The weekend also happens to coincide with the neighboring community of Port Angeles’ Dungeness Crab Festival, the perfect compliment.
As Jefferson County Tourism Council’s Steve Shively says, “Man can only live on so much cider without crab and so much crab without cider.”
The weekend truly is a foodie’s dream come true, allowing you to enjoy two great culinary festivals in a single weekend. Lodging fills up months in advance in Port Angeles, so base out of Port Ludlow or Hadlock to get your fill of cider and crab for the weekend.
Keep tasting your way through the peninsula with a truly seasonal and farm-to-table dining experience at the Fireside Restaurant at Port Ludlow Resort. Chef Dan Ratigan worked in Seattle’s finest restaurants before coming to the peninsula to create with the local bounty. The menu changes often and reflects whatever is in season at the moment. Late summer sees a menu chock-full of local berries, from raspberry to marionberry. Fall is filled with foraged mushrooms. Shively’s favorite dish on the peninsula can be found here: locally caught salmon. On Shiveley’s most recent visit, the salmon was glazed with local cider and served with blistered local blueberries. With four salmon runs a year, the fish is almost always in season.
These local artisans barely scratch the surface of the bounty this corner of the peninsula holds.
There’s Mt. Townsend Creamery, where you can taste locally produced cheeses, there’s U-Pick blueberry farms. There also is the Uptown Farmers Market in Port Angeles.
“You wouldn’t have enough stomach capacity to explore it all on one trip,” muses Shively.
Eventually, you’ll have to leave the peninsula, but the connection to the land will stay with you. As you unpack that bottle of cider you tucked into your suitcase, you’ll be yearning to plan the next trip.