Best of the Dane County Farmers’ Market

Tomorrow is market day — if you’re new to Madison, the size of the place can be intimidating. So here are some of my favorite stops, starting from the corner of Pinckney and Mifflin and proceeding counterclockwise.

  • Harmony Valley Farm: large, varied, yummy, non-cheap selection of organic produce. Their chiogga beets (and indeed all their beets) are delicious, as will be the big fat yellow and red carrots when they arrive. Mrs. Quomodocumque, who eats arugula the way you or I eat potato chips, says their bagged arugula is the best at the market.
  • Butler Farms sells sheep’s milk cheese off a table — they’re the only people at the Market who make Camembert, and their Camembert is a nice treat.
  • About halfway along Mifflin is a big friendly stand, whose name I don’t know, which is a good place for reasonably priced “non-fancy” vegetables — your broccoli, your zucchini, your cauliflower, your beans.
  • Stella’s Bakery, just before the Carroll Street corner, is famous for hot spicy cheesebread — you’ll hear the barkers hollering about it halfway up the street — and the cheesebread is indeed great, though much better if you stop shopping and eat it while it’s hot. If you want a somewhat more manageable snack, the empanadas are also hot, greasy, spicy, and cheesy, but much smaller than a whole load of cheesebread.
  • Carol Gitto is usually right at the corner, though she moves around a bit; she’s one of the few vendors who usually has ground cherries. I’d never heard of ground cherries before I moved to Wisconsin — now we try to keep a bowl of these weird delicious little things on the table at all times. They look like small tomatillos, but the taste is somewhere between very sweet citrus and pineapple.
  • About halfway up Carroll there’s a stand selling fresh and smoked trout, raised in an artesian well. If you, say, have a little kid in the house and try to keep PCBs and mercury out of your food, and if you prefer sustainable fisheries, too, your fish options are pretty strongly constrained — but trout from a well passes every test. (If you know this to be false, please don’t tell me.)
  • Tomato Mountain sells great heirloom tomatoes at a high but fair price, and lots of preserved products too — the sungold preserves, in particular, make an amazing sandwich spread or improvised pasta topping.
  • Fantome Farm, almost to the corner of Main Street, sells fantastic chevres at a high price — get some when company’s coming. The cheese is different every week and depends on proprietor Anne Topham’s whim; the extra-aged hard cheeses are some of the richest and stinkiest available in town.
  • At the corner of Carroll and Main there’s an organic vegetable stand that’s a good place to get weird varietals — exotic melons, non-standard species of lettuce and arugula, and so on.
  • Now turning the corner onto Main, your first stop can be Don’s Produce, where I buy a lot of my tomatoes. They don’t have a wide variety of heirlooms, but their basic tomatoes are inexpensive and routinely good; they always have a lot of yellow tomatoes, which I like best for some reason.
  • Capri Cheesery is one of my favorite spots in the whole market: Felix Thalhammer, a congenial Swiss guy who looks more like a professor than a dairy farmer, makes a wide variety of organic goat cheeses — not cheap, but worth buying weekly. I like the Mediterranean-style feta (marinated with thyme), the St. Felix (a harder, aged cheese) and the feta pesto spread.
  • The Land of Oos jam stand makes just about everything into jam; they have a lot of exotic choices (apple basil, blueberry jalapeno, etc.) but to my mind the freezer strawberry jam is unbeatable — tastes more like fresh fruit than any other jam I’ve had.

I’m sure I’ve missed some here — will supplement after tomorrow morning’s visit. In particular, I skipped the whole Pinckney Street side of the market, but by the time I’m 3/4 of the way around it’s usually time to take CJ home for his nap, so I’m less familiar with the stands there.

2 thoughts on “Best of the Dane County Farmers’ Market

  1. Daniel says:

    I have to say I’m a big fan of Stella’s Bakery’s hot spicy cheesebread. I generally break off pieces and heat it up in the microwave to melt the cheese before eating them. I haven’t had the chance to try many of the other stuff, but I think I’ll have to try to Fantome Farm chevre the next time I go – I love chevre.

  2. lukas says:

    Harmony Valley Farm is great, I get a CSA box from them…

    They’ve also had a rough time with the recent weather – flooding and all. But they’re still bringing produce to market and all that (albeit a bit less than usual). It’s up on their website:

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