Calabria to Walla Walla, All Aboard!

Last night I saw an ad that made me pause: Calabria. I’ve never seen a print ad, much less in Saveur for the forgotten toe of the boot of Italy even as it is the source of most of America’s concept of ‘Italian’ food. A couple years ago a friend and I spent time in Calabria and everywhere we went, we got the same reception: Hey! Americans! Wow!! Why are you here? But Welcome! Seriously, WELcome!! Tell your friends! Tell your family! Send more tourists! Hey, I have a cousin that lives in Chicago, do you know him?

What does Calabria have to offer? Oh, everything that Tuscany does- great food, ruins, history, lovely beaches, wineries. At about a quarter the cost. It’s not so polished as Northern Italy, but I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Calabria is not geared, yet, for tourists- there are no ‘tourist lunch special’ boards written in five languages, no easy signage to point you from one attraction to the next. There’s not a lot of people that speak a language other than Italian- and it’s a fuzzy dialect, too. Calabria is not for everyone. But if you’ve been to Italy a few times and you are looking for The Other Italy- there it is, waiting. And hoping you know their cousin.

In Gourmet there is an insert between 58/59 for Walla Walla. Color me as perplexed as the Calabrians. I thought, Not much over there… but wine.

There are two Washingtons. There’s the Puget Sound region (Seattle) and then everything else. Picture what you know about Seattle- rain, ferries, mountains, green, computers, planes. Now zoom about 100 miles East- it’s one of the driest places in the world. All the clouds that hit Seattle dump rain here so they can lift over the Cascades. It’s farmland- apple orchards, pears, cherries. Those McDonald’s fries you ate probably came from Washington (not Idaho). It’s a land of belt buckles and small towns proud of their high school basketball teams named for Hanford, where atoms were split for war then energy. My husband has a friend who is a Sheriff in Othello, a town on I-90, a major interstate that goes from Safeco Field, where the Mariners play, to Boston. His biggest job? Investigating fatality accidents that occur at the one stoplight on I-90 for 200 miles.

One thing that Eastern Washington has over Western Washington, though is Wine Country. There are about 9 AVA’s there, all cheek to jowl and Walla Walla is one of them.
If you’re drinking a Washington wine, it came from Eastern Washington, which kicks out highly rated wines at a nice clip. Drive east- you’ll go over one of the floating bridges and then quickly be in the mountains and about 40 minutes later you’ll start to see where Eastern Battles Western, when you can pinpoint where Western gives up- it all changes in about five miles (at 70mph, it’s less than five minutes)- and then you go down into the Columbia River valley, like a mini grand canyon, and there is no doubt that you’re in a land so different, it could be another country- black basalt cliffs, rusty red volcanic rock, scab lands from an ancient flood, tumbleweeds. And not a tree to be seen. Perfect for growing grapes. A decade ago, there were only a couple dozen wineries, but then the number doubled, then doubled again. And again. In 2006, there were something like 500 wineries in Washington state, the vast majority of them in the Columbia River Valley. They produce fantastic merlot, cabernet, viognier, zinfandel, riesling. Something for everyone.

One of my favorite wineries on the planet is Abeja. An old farm has been converted into a winery, and all the outbuildings are now guesthouses. It’s a great weekend road trip- a chance to see The Other Washington. Not for everyone, but good reason to visit.


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4 responses to “Calabria to Walla Walla, All Aboard!

  1. Othello is not located on I-90. It is at the crossroad of Highway 17 and Highway 26, which is 25 miles south of I-90. You must be thinking of Moses Lake.

  2. Lynn Forconi

    Where can I find the salt from the best tasting salt from the Puget Sound that you mentioned in the Kitchen Counter book you just released?

    • Kathleen Flinn

      We got that salt from The Herbfarm, which makes its own salt. I don’t think that it’s available for commercial purchase. However, I did find a very similar tasting version – an Alaska natural sea salt – at The Meadow in Portland and you can order it from there. It’s got that same heavy texture and bite that the one we had from The Herbfarm. It’s awesome on simply sauteed mushrooms or a grilled steak. I recently put it on simply sauteed spinach and it made the whole dish.

  3. Thank you Kathleen, for getting back to me! I just ordered the Alaska sea salt and I am looking forward to using it.
    Your Kitchen changed my life and healed some old wounds I had around cooking. I have gone through my refrigerator and pantry and I have reorganized and cleaned it top to bottom. I finally feel that I have
    reawakened the heart of my home. I love it. Thanks to you Kathleen..
    Smiles, Lynn Forconi

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