Three major fires have been consuming hundreds of acres in Idaho this week, causing communities to come together to help each other through. In fact, I think Boise’s culinary heart can be summed up by a news story I saw two nights ago: Three pre-teen girls wanted to bake cookies for the firefighters, but realizing there were too many firefighters to feed, they decided to hold a bake sale. For three days they baked cookies and brownies for their neighbors who would come by and pay $20 for a single treat. At the end of those three days, the girls donated more than $1,200 to their local fire department.
Idaho isn’t an easy country to live in. Fires and lightning storms take over summer skies, flash floods turn roads to rivers, and snow piles up in the winter. People have had to work together to make a home here and it seems that pioneer-like helpfulness has become an intrinsic part of the Idahoan character. The introduction of grapevines, breweries, and foodies haven’t changed that – rather the culture of collaboration has influenced the recent development of the food, wine and beer scenes.
For example, take Mike Francis, a former Boeing engineer in his late 20’s who has skyrocketed Payette Brewing Co. into an Idaho institution in just over two years. Not only does he source the thousands of pounds of grain he uses to make his “Outlaw Pale Ale” and “Mutton Buster” brown ale from Idaho farmers, he gives away the leftover mash to a local pig farmer. For free.
Or, Chef Paul at 10 Barrel Brewing Company who is not only committed to buying local beef and produce (in fact, some of the servers were joking about their burning hands from picking peppers in a field the previous day), but features gelato from a much smaller mom-and-pop operation. Then there’s Dan Balluff, a former Hewlett-Packard employee who quit computers to “work for peanuts” as owner of City Peanut Shop. Restaurant chefs, chocolate makers and brewers come to him with ideas for things like Bavarian-Almond Bratwurst (at 10 Barrel Brewing) or Payette IPA beer nuts. Dan says the collaborative spirit he’s experienced among Boise’s small businesses reminds him of the early days of the tech industry.
But one of the most singularly generous collaborations is happening in Boise’s burgeoning wine industry. Cinder Wine, Telaya and Coiled are three outstanding wineries that joined together under one roof to share a production facility and tasting room at 44th Street Wineries – with Cinder’s Melanie Krause helping newer Snake River Valley AVA winemakers refine their products. The winemakers band together like so many musketeers to support each other as they work to grow Idaho’s reputation as a wine destination, even as they are defining its identity as a region.
What I’ve discovered this week in Boise isn’t so much that it has innovative cuisine, craft beer and world-class wines, but how the community is working together to re-imagine Idaho’s food culture. Idaho is about much more than potatoes.