8 U.S. Cities Making Their Own Foreign Delicacies

By Kathleen Squires  |  October 14, 2013
Credit: La Quercia

Once upon a time in America, traveling food lovers had to smuggle foreign pleasures home - stuffing some jamon Iberico from Spain in the suitcase, for example, or stashing a little French raw milk cheese in a pocket - while risking serious fines in the process. There is still a long list of restrictions on the importing of foreign foods, but today, there’s actually less need to acquire them abroad. Sturgeon overfished in Russia? Go to California, where the caviar is sustainable. And why pay a premium on prosciutto di Parma when the “Americano” version from Iowa is just as good? Laws, restrictions, ecology and economy have all spurred industrious Americans to DIY their own “foreign delicacies” right in the good old USA. Here’s where to get once-considered-exotic imports made at home.

  • Eugene, Oregon: Truffles
    While many turn to the Perigord region of France for black truffles, or Italy’s Alba for white, both are bountiful in the Douglas fir woodlands in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. At the southern end of the region, Eugene happens to be the site of the annual Oregon Truffle Festival, which holds the distinction of being the first event of its kind in the English-speaking world. For three days at the end of January, the fest organizes truffle-hunting expeditions, truffle dog-training seminars, elaborate tastings and a signature Grand Truffle Dinner, during which six chefs - this year's roster include Aaron Barnett of Portland’s St. Jack - celebrate the earthy treasure in a grandiose meal.

  • Des Moines, Iowa: Prosciutto
    Sure, Parma, Italy, may have schools, and even a museum, devoted to the art of curing their world-famous ham, but Iowa has Herb and Kathy Eckhouse, both agro-enthusiasts who, inspired by living in Parma, brought the trade back to the USA to start La Quercia. The husband-and-wife team spent five years studying the art of salting, curing and butchering ham, while humanely raising pigs. Their resulting “prosciutto Americano” has wowed chefs from Blackbird’s Paul Kahan in Chicago to Lafayette’s Andrew Carmellini in New York City. Look for it on the charcuterie boards of the highest-rated restaurants across the nation. 

  • Boise, Idaho: Wagyu
    Its trademark marbling causes some to call Wagyu the best quality beef available in the U.S. Others, though, like writer Larry Olmstead, take issue with the “labeling” - the name actually means “Japanese cattle.” In the U.S., Wagyu are combo-cows of Japanese and American Angus breeds. Legend has it that the original Wagyu cows from Japan first came to America via Hawaii, as a gift from the Japanese emperor. Today they are raised in Montana, Colorado and New Mexico, yet Idaho can be considered the real cradle for the cows, as the American Wagyu Association is headquartered in Coeur d’Alene, and one of the leading cattle raisers, Snake River Farms, is just outside Boise. The family-run business’ “American Kobe” is a favorite of chefs such as Thomas Keller at The French Laundry in Napa. 

  • Hatch, New Mexico: Chile Peppers
    You don’t have to head south of the border, and no passport is required, to experience the chile capital of the U.S. The Scoville units are searing in Hatch, New Mexico, a small town amid pepper farms that hosts the annual chile pepper festival in early fall. A cornerstone of Southwestern cuisine, chiles are the state vegetable of New Mexico, which is home to 2,000 different varieties. The renowned Pepper Pot restaurant, right in the heart of town, is the spot to sample chiles rellenos, made exclusively with locally grown peppers. Nearby, in Las Cruces, the New Mexico State University Campus is home to an institute dedicated to research about cultivating the indigenous peppers. 

  • Sacramento, California: Caviar
    Due to overfishing of sturgeon in Iran and Russia, the Caspian Sea is no longer king for caviar. Eighty percent of prized sturgeon roe eaten in the U.S. comes from Sacramento now. Sterling, the leading purveyor, with three sturgeon farms, was the first to produce sustainable sturgeon, an important step in preserving the precious pearls. Chefs such as Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm are using it, and it also fills the famous blue tins of legendary caviar company Petrossian. 

  • Columbia Valley, Washington: Riesling
    One of the fastest growing wines in the U.S., Riesling, which takes well to cold-weather climates, is mostly associated with Europe. But in the U.S., Washington State’s Columbia Valley is the leading producer of the grape in the nation. One particular winery, Chateau Ste Michelle, excels with its eight varieties of Riesling - so much so, it has been named a “Winery of the Year” by Wines & Spirits magazine an unprecedented 18 times, surpassing Riesling producers in Germany, Austria, France and the New York Finger Lakes. 

  • Credit: Danya Henninger

    Ferndale, New York: Foie Gras
    When California instituted a statewide ban on the sale and production of foie gras last year, and recently upheld an appeal, one of the three producers in the country, Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, had to shutter its operation, giving New York’s Hudson Valley the stronghold on duck and goose liver. Just two hours north of Manhattan, La Belle Farms and Hudson Valley Foie Gras are now the sole foie gras producers in the entire U.S.

  • Blue Ridge Mountains, North Carolina: Wasabi
    Once only grown in the Far East - Japan, China, Taiwan and New Zealand - fresh wasabi (meaning the root of the actual wasabia Japonica plant, not the artificially green powdered stuff that's a hybrid of horseradish and mustard) now grows in selected pockets of the U.S. As the plant likes cool, shady conditions, it does particularly well in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The purveyor Real Wasabi not only sells the fresh root, but also a powder made from the root (just add water to make a paste), and other products such as wasabi-laced salad dressings.