Once a contradiction in terms, gourmet jerky is alive and well (just give Kings County or Oaktown Jerk a try). But fish, the bastard child of jerky meats, has yet to join the parade of high-end smoked beef products. Outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia aims to change this with its new line of flavorful, lean salmon jerky. There are three varieties – black pepper, chili pepper, and teriyaki – each with its own character (mild, spicy, and uber-umami, respectively) Compared to the beef variety, salmon jerky is chewy (an odd sensation you'll quickly overcome), mouth-watering, and healthful – a tasty treat that is high in omega-3, protein, low in fat, and excellently sourced.
Patagonia is known for its environmental standards, hands-on innovations, and ability to scrap product lines and reinvent itself, thanks to the leadership of founder Yvon Chouinard. Now that it's been around for 59 years, the company is at last looking to apply these standards to food, starting with salmon, which Chouinard calls the greatest mountain food. "Chouinard has been an avid fisherman for years," says Eric Neuron, the business unit director for Patagonia Provisions, the company's new food line. "It's an idea he's been kicking out there for a long time." Chouinard had his eye on the sockeye salmon that run the Skeena River in British Columbia, and aimed to capture the fish in the most sustainable way possible. For this, his company teamed up with Skeena Wild, a Canadian fish conservation organization. For the smoke, they took on Harald Kossler, the president of River Wild Salmon, a smokehouse in Terrace, B.C.
Sustainable food is slightly more complicated than organic hemp or chlorine-free wool, but Patagonia is taking up the challenge. "Too many endangered stocks are dwindling under the pressures of indiscriminate harvest and unsustainable fish-farming techniques," says its website, "so we believe a market-based solution is the best way to effect that change." Patagonia's approach? In-river fisheries that use nets, beach seines, and fish wheels rather than capturing the salmon – along with whatever other species are there – at the bottleneck at the mouth of the river. "We're trying to add value to in-river fish instead of catching them indiscriminately where there's a mixed stock environment," says Neuron, "where you could be catching the last of an endangered stock." It's a solace you may forget when biting into the smoky, spicy chili pepper salmon jerky (our favorite), washed down with water and sweat, preferably at elevation. [$12.50 per two-ounce package; patagonia.com]