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Markets…just the word makes me smile.  Markets; indoor, outdoor, farmers, artisan even non-food markets like hand crafted and antique markets have a certain draw for me.  But what is it exactly about these markets that make it worth it for me to pay $12 for a small block of cheese or $10 for an artisan loaf.  Is it the pretty displays, the hoards of other people who seemingly adore markets just as much as I do or is it something else?

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Is it the fact that you can talk and converse with the very people who handled the cow from which the milk in your ice cream came from, or that each stand sells its own singular specialty item, whether it be cured meats, fresh loaves, picked veggies or jarred jams they stay with what they know best.  They have worked at their trade specifically and have perfected it.  This is why I pay those extra dollars for that hand knit scarf or real pumpkin butter.

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Wall in Ronnybrook Farm Dairy where customers, young and old, give thanks to the farmers in forms of pictures and letters for their thoughtful products.

 

Unlike in grocery stores nothing is mass-produced at a market.  There is little to no machine processing involvement and no extra corn sweeteners or soybean oils.  You can talk to the people behind the counter and ask them whether they used chemicals in their growing of the kale or if they put preservatives in their jellies.  These farmers will most likely know all these facts and would surely love to talk about it, as it is their life.  The people behind the meat, cheese, milk, eggs counters at your local grocery store most likely won’t even know where the products originated, much less know the conditions in which they were grown.

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So this week I went to the Chelsea Market in New York for the first time and I bet you can imagine how excited I was.  I went on a dreary, rain filled day, and I was feeling the drousiness come until I entered this awesome market.  It might as well had been my birthday and Christmas all in one.  The fresh pastas of all colors and types, the friendly bakers and the chelloist who set the tone for my experience led me away from the drousy day into a new place surrounded by interesting smells.

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So the first place I stopped by was a place where they make all of their own pastas.  They have everything from squid ink linguini to chocolate ravioli (filled with a chocolate hazelnut filling…I could not believe it, all of my favorite things in one small beautiful package).  They also have a small menu of special take away dishes including Butternut squash ravioli with butter and pistachios and an insalate (salad) of spinach and radicchio with sunchokes (my new favorite thing), parmigiano reggiano and walnuts. Yum.

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Visit their blog to meet the family and the cows at http://ronnybrookfarmdairy.wordpress.com.

Next, I saw a familiar logo, a stamped cow surrounded by the title, Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, thats where I get my milk from at the local farmer’s market.  This local dairy farm ran out of Andcramdale, New York supplies milk to markets all over Manhattan and markets throughout New York State.  On site in Chelsea Market they don’t only supply their fresh milk and dairy products but also serve breakfast to customers.  When I asked the guy behind the counter about Ronnybrook Farms he could not have been more enthusiastic.  He told me about the difference between the milk in these glass jars and the milk you find in a grocery store.  It makes all the difference.  Then he scooped me up a sample of his favorite flavor of Ronnybrook’s ice cream, blueberry, and I was sold.  This ice cream had a smoothness that I had never experienced from any other ice cream before.  The rich flavor and creamy texture was to die for.  He was right, when you use real milk from local cows the product just becomes that much better, so stop by and try some blueberry ice cream for yourself and on your way out grab a jug of their milk, you will be happy you did.

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Next, I came upon what seemed like a small warehouse, but upon further sight I realized this was the inner makings of a bakery.  Large rounds of dough filled tables as bakers broke them down into individuals loafs.  This was Sarabeth’s.  The walls to their warehouse bakery are completely glass, inviting people to come and watch them prepare their goods all from scratch.  I stayed, long past my welcome, and watched as they kneaded, cut and formed their dough into individual rounds.  And the smell from inside the store was delicious.  Unlike the smell pumped through the vents at Starbucks or Subway, this scent is is subtle yet sweet. It reminds me of waking up christmas morning to a fresh stack of pancakes, or french toast caramelizing in the oven.  And the best part was that I saw Sarabeth!  She was back there working alongside her co-workers, kneading, preparing and baking the doughs.  Again this is all a reminder of the connectedness of markets.  Sarabeth is not just a name, she is a real person and you can actually watch her prepare your food.  Along with breads and pastries, Sarabeth also sells jams, everything from their famous orange apricot marmalade to strawberry kiwi ginger jam.  Pick up a jar and slather it on a fresh croissant, you will never return to store bought, I promise.

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On my way out I stopped by Dickson’s Farmstand Meats.  Ever since learning about the US’s system of meat production I have vowed to only eat meat that has been sustainably and responsibly raised.  Being a college student that is hard found in my day to day selections which is why I am always drawn to meat farm stands.  I asked the man behind the counter about the specifics of how this meat was raised and he informed me that the cows are all raised on pastures.  Fed grass from the time of birth and let free to roam.  He did tell me that they often put their cows on a diet of organic grain the last 90 days of their life.  He referred to this is grain-finished meat.  However, he said they also sell grass-fed and finished cows, meaning cows that are only fed grass their entire life.  What makes me most happy about this counter is that thought is put into the cattle here.  These people are thoughtful when it comes to the raising of their meat which means more nutrients for the cows and in turn for us the consumers.  It is a healthy, happy cycle that I am happy to be a part of.

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There are so many great places in Chelsea Market.  There is a restaurant called the Green Table that provides ready-made, completely local and sustainable meals for workers on the go.  There is a cheese shop that supplies artisan cheeses from around the US.  Ask them about their organic selection!  There is an italian market, many gelato spots, bakeries and even Food Network Chef Morimoto’s Restaurant all in this one block in NYC.

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So all in all this place rocks.  I will definitely be making my way back to say hi to my dairy farmer friend and pick up another jar of that jam.  And if you live around Chelsea I suggest you go too!  Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

 

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