by Corin Hirsch
Photo from Norwich Farmers Market
In the constellation of 70 or so farmers markets in Vermont, a few stand out as regional anchors: Burlington, or course, as well as Capital City in Montpelier and Brattleboro in southern Vermont. In the Upper Valley, the big daddy is the Norwich Farmers Market, which has occupied a field on Route 5 every summer Saturday since 1977.
Norwich is such a staple — and has so many craft vendors — that it can be easy to overlook it in favor of smaller, more ecletic and fringe markets, especially if you're always in search of new experiences (like me). Yet when I paid a visit last Saturday, it was clear why Norwich holds the alpha position among its peers. It's well-designed, well-stocked and large enough for you to find everything you might need for a week of eating. It's also a testament to the robustness of the Upper Valley food scene, at least when it comes to purveyors.
Each one of the wooden booths here look like they might blow over during the next storm, but they've actually been standing for years. These were the highlights for me last week:
—Salsa from Luna Bleu Farm
This South Royalton farm vends a rainbow of vegetables, but the best part of their ouevre last week was the gorgeous "Sol" salsa from their own tomatoes, peppers and herbs. It's not really hot at all, but so fresh you can imagine spooning it onto everything from grilled fish to omelettes. No doubt their CSA customers get to nosh on this year round; unfortunately for me, it had sold out a few moments before I tried to buy some. "We're making much more for next week," confided someone at the farm.
—Summer squash soup from a mysterious Italian vendor
Everyone at this booth looks bona-fide Old Country. Their array of pastries is arterially arresting, but so too is a summer squash soup, the color of sunshine and spiked with enough lemon zest to make your palate sizzle. It's ridiculously simple, like most decent Italian dishes; I would eat it every day for lunch if I could. Can I remember the name? No. And no amount of calling is bringing me closer to it. They're at the northwest corner of the market, doling out fresh herbal iced teas and, of course, soup.
—Cheeses from Woodcock Farm
Probably half of Vermont has been enjoying these for years. But I'd never tasted the cheeses that this couple, Mark and Gari Fischer, make from both local Jersey cow milk and their own East Freesian sheep milk in Weston. The grassy Taleggio is so creamy that it seems to almost dissolve upon eye contact; the sheeps' milk Weston Wheel is divine when melted over grilled burgers. (I tried it just last night.)
—Lamb sausage from Hogwash Farm
Last fall, I bought my Thanksgiving turkey from this farm, just outside of Norwich. I had no idea they raised lamb until bringing home a pound (about seven links) of their incredible lamb sausage, which is made with rosemary, red wine, feta and a dose of ground pork. They're almost airy, cooking on the grill in minutes; I ate every single link in three days, totally crushing on their almost autumn-like flavors. Bring on the fall, as long as I have these in my fridge.
Norwich Farmers Market on Route 5 South. Every Saturday from May 4 through October 26, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.