Tuesday, January 1, 2008

San Francisco Farmer's Market

If you even remotely love food or are passionate about cooking, this market is the supreme gourmet's shopping paradise!

The San Francisco Farmer's Market is massive and encircles the San Francisco Ferry Building which is the crown jewel of the gourmet city's epicenter. With high-end aritsan cheeses and breads, wines, fresh yogurts and truffle butter, exquisite chocolates from Reccheitti and robust and elegant McEvoy olive oils. The crowds circulate among all these precious stores and shop as if it's Thanksgiving in July! I walk around in dazed awe of my surroundings- so prolific in its' wealth of foodstuffs and bounty of produce and gourmet restaurants in this beautifully restored historic building.

Walking outside, you are caught up immediately in the energy of the crowd as they circulate among the farmers booths. You see tables laden with pots of fresh honey, golden bottles of local California olive oils. Jars of chutney and preserves beckon you coming in traditional flavors, cherry and apricot with almond, and thick strawberry preserves. The most difficult event of the morning is not buying everything!

Vegetables are in abundance with stalks of thick, round brussel sprouts- green & firm, leafy swiss chard, bundles of spinach and green onions! Baskets with late season heirloom tomatoes draw you in with rainbow hughes of gold, orange, purple & yellow. Samples are prolific and as the throngs of people walk by the booths, the reach out to try a slice of crisp, sweet apple, chunks of tomatoes, pieces of cheese. Crescents of peaches & plums, all dripping in their juices provide a refreshing, sweet taste that satisfies.

At this time of year, Frog Hollow Farms, the famed premium peach farm offers table of fat, gorgeous pears. The large round apple pears are the size of a softball and the varieties of pears is impressive. You also see packets of dried peaches and apricots, nuts and other fruits to choose from; truly a delight. Nearby is a booth where bourbon, pecan pies are being sold. The adorable man selling these gave me a sample. After the decadent bite melted in my mouth, I looked at him as commented that it was so rich, you could seduce someone with a pie like this! The purveyor blushed marvelously and my friend who also had a sample laughed. We all agreed.

The range of products for sale at the market is broad with vacuum sealed salmon, fresh eggs, handmade soaps and geranium and lavendar salt scrubs to choose from. Also found near these gorgeous items are blended gourmet salts and sugars mixed with rosemary, lavendar, vanilla and mint!

What makes the Farmer's Market such a wonderful experience is the people who represent their special items. I love taling to the lady at the market who sells fresh, handmade butter and cheeses. When I first saw her, I was buying unsalted butter to practice making compound butters- (something I recently learned about when I took a cooking class taught by famed, local TV chef Joanne Weir- a talent who I personally feel embodies the spirit and joy of cooking like no other.) I was there with a friend and we were quite excited about the project:
  • Butter blended with honey and toasted pecans or cashews
  • Butter blended with blue cheese and truffle salt
I saw the butter lady recently when I was buying more butter. She remembered me and asked how the project went. "Overall well", I said. "The honey butter is decaden, and good enough to eat all by itself causing me to acti with restraint when I take it out of the refrigerator! The blue cheese butter was not as successful, maybe I went a little too crazy with the cheese. It didn't melt as well as I would have liked." She looked philosopical and gave the pragmatic suggestion to try again! Good idea! Her butter is rich, dense, well worth buying more...

The goat chees lady was interesting. She owns her own herd of goats in Northern California and has dedicated herselft to their care and production of milk. Se produces her own cheeses, which stands out as significantly different than the soft, creamy mounds of goat cheese you buy at the store. With texture and shape similar to a wheel of parmesan with ash crust, the results of her labor is truly high-end, artisinal goat cheese with a dense, hard texture and a rich, smokey tast. I noticed with surprise that she also produced her own sausage...goat. Intrigued, I bought one of them, but to date have not been brave enough to try it.

Truly an artist & craftsperson, she is generous with her time as she answers questions on her technique for producing her cheeses to a rapt audience of gourmet foodies clustered around her booth. You could see the appreciation and respect emanating from the the small group of people listening to her. They were peppering her with questions, fascinated with her craftsmanship and the labor involved with producing such fine cheeses.

Each time I come to this market I am filled with excitement and anticipation of what I might discover and who I might speak with. I wonder if the salt purveyor will be back on my next visit so I can purchase that rosemary salt that winked at me as I was leaving the market on my last visit. Being here is inspiring, energizing. Truly a celebration of California's bounty and the potential of great cooking to come!

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