Laraine Creegan, Master of the Montauk Farmer’s Market. photo courtesy of Donna Hadjipopov
The air was brimming with the smell and weight of the ocean, and the hazy morning mist did little to mask the sun’s heat.
Like many, when traveling to a new place I like to first visit its farm market, which allows me the opportunity to talk not only to farmers and vendors, but other shoppers- thus capturing a true sense of the community I am visiting. And so on my first visit to Montauk, I drove past the dunes and headed straight to the Village Green, where the Montauk Farmer’s Market runs Thursdays from 9am to 1pm (this year June 13 – October 17th). There, I was lucky enough to have a personal tour led by Donna Hadjipopov, Montauk resident, Renaissance woman and owner of East Hampton’s Bulgar, beautiful pottery and products from Bulgaria. Donna immediately introduced me to Laraine Creegan, the executive director of The Montauk Chamber of Commerce. Laraine is a dynamo who curates a glorious gathering of farmers and vendors- who are not only individually extraordinary- but who as a whole form a well-balanced journey. As she talked to me about her vendors and the growth of the Market, countless people waved and spoke to her and I could see quickly what a close community was gathered on the Green. Both Donna and Lorraine speak of “their” farmers with extreme pride and I understand why.
Our first stop was the tent of Amagansett-based Amber Waves Farm. There, on land leased from the Peconic Land Trust, Amanda Merrow and Katie Baldwin (featured in this 2010 New York Times article) are celebrating their 5th wheat crop. Smart, energetic and passionate, Amanda and Catherine proudly showed me their whole wheat stone ground flour, as well as a multitude of other vegetables (to order wheat berries or flour during off season months, see their website).
In perfect poetry, I moved from the Amber Waves tent to that of Carissa’s Breads, where baker Carissa Waechter (featured here in a Q/A on the Epi-Log) uses Amber Waves grains to create a multitude of delicacies including my favorite- Schiacciata all’uva- a sweet Tuscan-style focaccia made with grapes and fennel. When they are available, Carissa uses grapes from the East End’s own Wölffer Estate Vineyard . Her flavorful Schiacciata all’uva contains black grapes and generous amounts of fennel, salt and olive oil and looks absolutely gorgeous. This mid-morning snack made me feel like I was walking down a cobblestone street in Florence…
It gives me profound joy as I travel and taste to see that passionate young farmers are becoming the norm. My next stop was no exception. Bhumi Farm‘s Frank Trentacoste is a former Wall Street trader who left his fast-paced New York City life to grow organic vegetables at his Amagansett-based farm. Frank does something really smart and business-savvy: he sells gift cards, which can be used to purchase produce from his farm. What a wonderful and original present to give. The gift cards – along with gift baskets are available for purchase on the Bhumi website.
Mecox Bay Dairy‘s fourth generation of family farmers produce a variety of artisanal cheeses including this creamy Farmhouse Cheddar that I particularly enjoyed. Look at that rind!
It was a hot morning and just in time to quench my thirst, we arrived at Sweet’tauk,which produces agave-sweetened lemonades and ice pops. Their pops show creative flair in their flavor combinations: rhubarb creamsicles, watermelon jalapeno, strawberry basil- and taste lovely too. I drank a Meyer Lemonade that was very subtle in its acidic taste, and quite refreshing.
Not only do Horman’s Best Pickles have a fabulous tag line (“Think. Question. Pickle.“), they taste great too. My half sour dills were extremely fresh and satisfyingly crunchy.
Another lovely highlight- The Amagansett Sea Salt Company, whose finishing salt is harvested
from the East End ‘s Atlantic shores, and prepared by hand in small batches. Their “Montauk Blend” is seasoned with lemon zest and is just divine- powerful and summery.
Lastly, a product whose name at first made me cringe, but whose taste ultimately won me over: Fat Ass Fudge.
Owner and baker Donna McCue uses 72% pure dark Belgian chocolate, organic goat’s milk, and goat’s milk butter to create a creamy, melodious fudge, the likes of which I have never before encountered. I delighted in her “Dark Chocolate Sea Salt,”prepared with Amagansett Sea Salt. Salted chocolate is all the rage- and as much as I like the sweet savory combination in theory- too often than not I find that the balance hasn’t been well-executed. In this case, it was perfectly balanced- and quite easily the best fudge I have ever tasted. I look forward to tasting her Dark Chocolate Ricotta made with cheese from Mecox Bay Dairy. Watch for a rerun of Donna’s appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank on August 30th, 2013.
These are just a few highlights from my morning, which was incredibly satisfying – both for its tastes and its conversations. If you are visiting the East End of Long Island, or live close by, consider the Montauk Farmer’s Market a “must.” Take your time. Talk and ask questions. Sample, buy and enjoy. We are nothing without our farmers and local vendors- and the community that embraces them.