It comes as no surprise to Rogue Valley residents that visitors find our region’s topography beautiful, our towns charming and our pace calm, even serene.
“People just love the area,” said Medford resident and travel blogger Judy Gambee. “They were just very charmed.”
That was the overarching impression of a dozen food bloggers from around the country who descended on Southern Oregon Thursday and Friday at the invitation of Harry & David. The group, which I had the pleasure of joining for a couple of events, had a packed itinerary including tours and activities at Harry & David headquarters and producers of other artisan foods, such as Rogue Creamery.
The bloggers toured pear orchards, painted chocolates with chocolatier Charlie Douglass (see photos on my Facebook page), assembled their own gift baskets and shipped them to family and friends. During their downtime, the group wandered around Ashland and Jacksonville. Many of the bloggers hail from bigger cities, and some had never been to the West Coast until this trip, said Gambee.
In between, there was lots of dining. The conference culminated in a three-course meal prepared by Harry & David corporate chef Tim Keller at 2Hawk Winery in Medford. See photos on my Facebook page.
Seated next to me was the most renowned blogger: Angie Dudley, aka Bakerella of cake pop fame. She was kind enough to indulge my questions and seemed genuinely happy to share her impressions of the Rogue Valley and our food scene. Angie even was humble enough to admit that she’s not a “food person” but found plenty to enjoy here.
“One meal after another has been amazing,” she said. The group dined at The Winchester Inn and The Peerless in Ashlandand Déjà vu Bistro in Jacksonville, as well as from the Fresco food truck. Coffee-Oreo-caramel ice cream at BJ’s in Ashland really stood out among the flavors she sampled. Trying not to seem like such a cheerleader for all things local, I vouched for the Rogue Valley pear flavor, particularly mixed with candied ginger.
“I found a new love for pears,” she said, explaining that in Atlanta, where she lives, the peach reigns supreme but she never thought much about the Rogue Valley’s signature fruit. And although Angie had been to Portland and the Oregon Coast, she said she’d never heard about the Rogue Valley’s food scene prior to visiting.
The mere fact that this area warranted the group’s time and attention should be a glimpse into its future. Gambee’s husband, Stephen, also seated next to me at dinner, said he thinks the artisan-food scene is on the cusp of something big. A lifelong Oregonian, he works in economic development, previously in real estate. We swapped stories about young entrepreneurs who seemingly find the Rogue Valley by accident and realize it’s perfect for a specialty-foods startup.
While catering to a more “traditional” clientele, Harry & David, said Judy Gambee, also deserves some credit for employing “young, educated, vibrant” people, which added an “uplifting” tone to the corporate tour. And although the gift-fruit giant in many ways exists outside the realm of artisan, Gambee said she was impressed by how many tasks are still done by hand.
Go to this blog’s previous post for links to my fellow food bloggers’ sites to see what they’re saying.