Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Madison Farmers Market and Cheese Curds

My San Francisco neighborhood, the Inner Sunset, got a brand new farmers market last month. It's a wonderful community addition among a region full of different market options. But no market in California compares to the one I went to every summer weekend growing up... the Dane County Market, on the Capital square in Madison, Wisconsin.

I wanted to share some photos taken on my recent trip back which will give a sense of what it's like at the country's largest market. With over 300 vendors total and 150 on any given Saturday, there's an impressive array of people and goods, along with many "only in Wisconsin" elements. First of all, of course there's lots of cheese. Cheese curds, goat cheese, organic cheese, cheese spreads, frying cheese, and multiple bakery stalls competing to corner the spicy cheese bread market. And there is state pride. I'd estimate at least 1 of every 5 patrons are wearing Wisconsin shirts. Plus there's cheese shaped like the state and cookies shaped like cows (marked by signs noting that they will put you in "Udder Bliss").

From Cheese Curds & the Madison, WI Farmers Market

This year, I was impressed to see more organic farms, and a growing diversity of vendors. One stand sold only gourds -- miniature, gigantic, and everything in between. The woman there turned out to be a San Franciscan who had moved to Wisconsin five years ago. And my favorite discovery was a booth selling Emu eggs, which were a unique shade between deep purple and brown, and about 10 times the size of a chicken egg.

Every time I go back to the Madison farmers market I get cheese curds. If you haven't had them, they're bite size pieces of cheese that, when made fresh, actually squeak between your teeth. Hardcore Wisconsinites sometimes fry them, but eating them as is provides enough of a thrill (and enough calories) for me. I grabbed a bag of curds and hand-carried them home to California to serve at my belated b-day gathering. They were a highlight of the night. Our waiter was even kind enough to serve them up on a silver platter!

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