An archipelago of islands off the coast of Washington State, there are 172 named islands and reefs in San Juan County but the main three–all with ferry service–are San Juan Island (with the county seat Friday Harbor), Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. Not only are they the most populous but each offers a myriad of lodging, dining, and activities for visitors.
The 13 defining tastes of the San Juan Islands are salmon, heritage fruit, foraged botanicals, shellfish (think oysters and clams), crab, lamb, Mangalitsa Pork, seaweed and salt, lavender and hops, cider and apple brandy, grains, goat cheese and white wines.
Here’s a sampling of what visitors can find:
Spiced apple with chocolate and pumpkin cream-filled doughnuts. Cardamom buns. Buckwheat tahini chocolate cookies. Savory brioche tarts with leek, chevre, and kabocha squash. All of the ingredients for these mouth-watering pastries? Entirely sourced locally by creator and owner of new Seabird Bakeshop, Brea Currey, from Orcas Island farm stands like West Beach and Maple Rock, eggs from neighborhood chickens, and flour from Fairhaven Mills in Burlington. Since September, Seabird Bakeshop has been thriving on Orcas Island where chefs are thinking creatively about how to bridge food and entrepreneurism during the time of coronavirus. Thus far, Currey’s success is, among other things, a testament to the power of baking as a 2020 survival strategy on Washington’s farm-to-table captivated island. Find Seabird on Facebook and Instagram: @seabirdbakeshop
Myers Creamery on Orcas Island, Quail Croft on San Juan Island, and Sunnyfield Farm on Lopez Island all are expect at making fresh chevre, herbed cheeses, washed-rind and aged cheeses, all of which can be found at each island’s farmers’ markets, and at the Orcas Island Food Co-op and the San Juan Island Food Co-op. Following the seasons, goat cheeses start out fresh and creamy in springtime when the goats graze on spring grass. As the grass matures, so does the flavor of the cheese, until at the end of fall, the cheeses are more intense, earthy and, dare we say, “goaty.”
Cold pressed cider. Small batch granola. A box full of farm-fresh greens. Locavores, look no further: the newly aggregated Washington Food and Farm Finder features 1,700 farms, farmers markets, and food vendors with offerings “grown, caught, raised, or made” across the state. Find San Juan Islands favorites like Ursa Minor, Madrone Cellars, and Buck Bay Shellfish Farm. The guide has filters for pickup or delivery services, markets, food trucks, or specialty food and beverage locales. Icons designate sustainable fishing or animal welfare certifications, as well as veteran-, woman-, and BIPOC-owned businesses. For more information: https://eatlocalfirst.org/wa-food-farm-finder/
Island makers Girl Meets Dirt and Madrone Cellars & Ciders are winners in the annual Good Food Awards for 2021. Madrone’s Barrel-Aged Currant took top prize in the Cider category. Girl Meets Dirt has winners in both the Preserves and Elixirs category. Their Rhubarb Lavender Spoon Preserves are a great choice for charcuterie. The Rhubarb shrub and Shiro Plum Tree bitters give some extra oomph to your signature cocktails. Shop Girl Meets Dirt winners here: www.girlmeetsdirt.com/shop and Madrone Cellars here: https://madronecellars.com/
Local favorite San Juan Sea Salt is rolling out a new line of flavored salts: the Deli Series, starting with Everything but the Bagel. All the yum of everything bagels, none of the carbs! Try this on avocado toast, mixed with your breading for fried chicken, and snacking on it straight from the jar! Everything but the Bagel joins the Dill Pickle Salt as an homage to class deli flavors. The Dill Pickle Salt is a tangy, dilly, zesty, garlicky salt with just the right magic to give your mouth the déjá vu feeling of crunching into a darn fine pickle. Find these and others here: www.sanjuanislandseasalt.com/online-store/NEW-c48889151
Buck Bay Shellfish Farm on Orcas Island is a hidden gem where you can stop in for a couple of pounds of fresh clams or oysters, or you can while away a whole afternoon shucking oysters and drinking wine (BYOB) while looking out over the serenity of Buck Bay just yards away.
New owners Eric and Andrea Anderson rebuilt the docks and oyster shack at Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm on the north end of San Juan Island. They’ve also linked the property to trails connecting to English Camp, making their shellfish farm a destination for hikers and bicyclists as well.
Island wineries produce light, refreshing whites that pair well with seafood and other San Juan specialties. Owners Yvonne Swanberg of San Juan Vineyards, and Brent Charnley of Lopez Island Vineyards grow and makes Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine from their estate vineyards.
Westcott Bay Cider, one of the oldest cideries in the state of Washington, ferments three types of ciders from the “bitters” and “sharps” from their orchard, from traditional dry to medium-sweet styles. The cider is then distilled into a clear eau-de-vie and aged in wine barrels.
Orcas Island Cider and Mead Festival has drawn two dozen cider and mead producers from throughout the region.
Local farmer Brady Ryan started San Juan Island Sea Salt, made by collecting salt water from the Salish Sea and drying it in special bins to retain the fluffy white crystals that are then flavored with such botanicals as smoked madrona bark, dried kelp, lemon peel and various dried herbs.
In any list of definitive island flavors, lavender deserves its own category, partly because it is a cultivated botanical rather than a forged one. But it’d also an important part of island culture.
Pelindaba Lavender Farm has been growing lavender and creating lavender products for almost 20 years. At the farm, you can stroll the lavender fields, learn about how lavender oil is extracted and distilled into almost 250 products made onsite, including many food products such as lavender teas, salad dressings, ice cream and herbal rubs.
Island grown hops are used in the beers made by Orcas Island’s Island Hoppin’ Brewery, adding floral and bitter notes and a local touch to these tasty beers. You can visit the brewery and tasting room just outside of Eastsound.
Chef Geddes Martin, owner of the Inn at Ship Bay, raises his own Mangalitsa hogs in partnership with his friend and farmer, John Steward of Maple Rock Farm and Hogstone’s Wood Oven. Mangalitsa is a breed that’s known as the “hairy pig that is the Kobe beef of pork,” with more flavor and marbled fat than standard industrial-raised pork, and makes for amazing pork belly or pork loin.