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Chukar Cherries Offers A Year-Round Taste Of Summer

Aug 12, 2012
Originally published on August 13, 2012 12:01 am

Over the course of just a few sun-soaked weeks every summer, Chukar Cherries in central Washington state dries 250,000 pounds of fresh cherries.

"It's almost like going into your mom's kitchen and she's just taken a cherry pie out of the oven," says co-owner J.T. Montgomery. "A little bit like that."

Not surprisingly, the dried fruit goes into lots of Chukar Cherries' products, including the company's most popular: chewy, semi-dried cherries, rolled in oval nuggets of chocolate.

Make no mistake: These are not those syrupy chocolate-cherry candies that people hand out on Valentine's Day. Instead, think chocolate-covered raisins, but much richer.

On an early summer morning at the Chukar Cherries facility in Prosser, Wash., Eva Moreno is scraping the dried sticky treats off of stainless steel trays. "No snacking allowed," she says. "Even though they look delicious."

Through a set of double doors is the "chocolate room."

It smells delicious.

What look like massive copper kettles turned on their sides spin around like concrete mixers.

"The process that you're watching here is called panning," Montgomery says. "It's an old-world chocolate process."

"Each new layer of chocolate adheres to the previous layer. It just builds up ... exactly like a pearl."

You can order these treats online, but you really need to visit Chukar Cherries' tasting room for the full experience.

Anita Quinn, a high school teacher and regular Chukar Cherries customer, is perusing the offerings today. A tasting room staffer offers up a sample of Chukar's "Cabernet," a tart cherry covered in dark chocolate.

Quinn pops the sample in her mouth.

"Ohhhh," she sighs. "Well, how could you beat dark chocolate and a cherry? You have that sweet taste and then it's a little tart. It just goes together."

For Quinn, Chukar Cherries capture the taste of central Washington.

"I remember my mom could always hardly wait to get cherries from here, the fresh ones," Quinn says. "But then when they started doing this — it's like you can have them all year."

That means summer can linger, even in those dark winter months here in the Northwest.

Copyright 2012 N3. To see more, visit http://www.nwnewsnetwork.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This summer we've been bringing you stories of regional candies found across America. Now, we're taking you to the Northwest for a taste that makes summer last all-year long. The Northwest News Network's Anna King introduces us to Eastern Washington's Chukar Cherries.

ANNA KING, BYLINE: Over the course of just a few sun-soaked weeks every summer, Chukar Cherries dries 250,000 pounds of fresh cherries.

J.T. MONTGOMERY: It's almost like going into your mom's kitchen and she's just taken a cherry pie out of the oven. A little bit like that.

KING: That's J.T. Montgomery, one of the owners of the candy company. The dried fruit goes in to a lot of its products. The most popular: Chewy semi-dried cherries rolled in oval nuggets of chocolate. Don't mistake Chukar Cherries for those syrupy chocolate-cherry candies that people hand out for Valentine's Day. Think chocolate raisins, but a lot richer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCRAPING)

KING: After the drying process, Eva Moreno scrapes the sticky treats off stainless trays.

No snacking allowed, Eva?

EVA MORENO: No snacking allowed.

(LAUGHTER)

MORENO: Even though they look delicious.

KING: Next, Montgomery leads us to a set of double doors.

MONTGOMERY: OK, we are about to enter the chocolate room.

KING: Oh, my gosh. It smells really good in here.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

MONTGOMERY: The process that you're watching here is called panning. It basically what the - panning is an old-world chocolate process.

KING: Imagine a copper kettle turned on its side, spinning around like a concrete mixer.

MONTGOMERY: Each new layer of chocolate adheres to the previous layer and they get, you know, it just builds up...

KING: Like a pearl.

MONTGOMERY: Exactly, it's just exactly like a pearl. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: You can order online, but Chukar Cherries' tasting room is the real experience.

ANITA QUINN: Which one is this?

KING: Anita Quinn is a high school teacher and regular Chukar Cherries customer.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is the cabernet.

QUINN: Oh, the cabernet. OK.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's a tart cherry with dark chocolate.

KING: Quinn pops the sample into her mouth.

QUINN: Oh, well, how can you beat dark chocolate and a cherry? You have that sweet taste and then it's a little tart, and it just goes together.

KING: For Quinn, Chukar Cherries capture the taste of Central Washington.

QUINN: I can always remember my mom could always hardly wait to get cherries from here, the fresh ones. But then when they started doing this it's like you can have them all year.

KING: Which means summer can linger, even in those dark winter months here in the Northwest.

For NPR News, I'm Anna King in Richland in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.