Last week I flew out to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for the first time to visit my brother Jay and his family. Jay is a professor at Duke University and director of the Duke Center for Sustainability and Commerce. It was a fairly brief visit, but he organized two special outings for me: a North Carolina barbecue lunch--from pork ribs and brisket to hush puppies and fried okra--and a trip to the local farmers market in Carrboro.
This part of North Carolina is a blending of rural with all the trappings of major universities and, of course, the renowned Research Triangle. Small towns are linked together by winding roads with views of lakes, farms, Colonial homes with gracious front porches, and only periodically, commerce. The Wednesday and Saturday Carrboro Farmers Market is held in the Carrboro Town Commons, a village center that also houses restaurants and shops and the local coop, the Weaver St. Market. The Carrboro Farmers Market has been around for 35 years and is notable for the facts that all the food sold there comes from within a 50-mile radius of Carrboro and that the vendors must represent their own products, be it produce, cheese, meat, breads, or flowers--and there are lots of all of these.
This time of year, my brother pointed out, the market isn't that large. Spring is just arriving and the full flush of spring harvest and summer bounty hasn't quite yet arrived. But there was still a feeling of abundance and while I saw lots of produce that you'd also find in Southern California--lettuces, radishes, kale, strawberries, beets (very big there), and tomatoes--I was charmed by surprise after surprise. Some of the most delightful surprises were simply the names of these regional farms: Coon Rock Farm, Captain J.S. Pope Farm, Wild Hare Farm, Two Chicks Farm, Ever Laughter Farm, Waterdog Farms, Fickle Creek Farm, and Celebrity Goat Dairy. Then there were the actual products. Here are a few:
Pecans--two types, Elliot and Cape Fear--in the shell.
And, pecan pie, of course.
Then there were the cheeses, all made at area dairies.
I sampled a number of delicious goat cheeses. But here at this stall was Florence of Chapel Hill Creamery, which she said is about seven miles away. Florence is the cheese maker and has an extensive repertoire, including fresh mozzarella, farmers cheese, Carolina Moon--her version of Camembert, Hickory Grove, and Calvander--an asiago-style cheese. When I return to Chapel Hill--hopefully this time next year--I plan to visit the dairy and learn about her cheese-making techniques.
Finally, there was the family-run Chicken Bridge Bakery, which had some of the most beautiful breads I've ever seen. The baker uses Carolina ground flour to produce a number of unique loaves, along with bagels, muffins, granola, and even naan. They run a Community Supported Bread project (CSB), which, like CSAs, is subscription based, enabling people to join by the month and receive a different loaf of bread weekly.
See those little samples in the basket above? For some reason I was drawn to them. They were dark and both crunchy and chewy in the way a dark bread can be when toasted. Well, they were the result of a mistake, the baker admitted. He'd made--and burned--Danish Seeded Rye loaves. Instead of tossing them, he sliced the loaves thin and toasted them to make these delicious crackers. I bought a bag for $3.50 and am still enjoying them--with local goat cheese I later found at the Weaver St. Market and brought home.
The Carrboro Farmers market, which is vendor run, is only one of over a dozen farmers markets in Raleigh/Durham and the Triangle. And, if you happen to be in the area April 27 and 28, you can take the Piedmont Farm Tour--39 farms for $25 per carload in advance or $30 at the first farm you visit. You can buy your button online at www.carolinafarmstewards.org.