Letter from Montreal: A visit to Jean-Talon Market
Dairy Queen here: To me, one of the best parts of being involved in this blog is getting to read my five fellow Ethicureans' points of view, hailing from different parts of the country and with varying preoccupations. In this case, I think, many cooks just makes for more interesting soup.
We would love to publish more guest posts and are also looking for regular contributors who are trying to chew the right thing, preferably outside our foodsheds of the Bay Area, Seattle, and Austin. (Someday there will be Ethicurean t-shirts and we'll give those away; in the meantime writing must be its own reward, as it is for us.)
So please welcome one of our Canadian readers, who has just sent in what I hope will be the first of many dispatches. I asked him to tell us a bit about himself, as well as fill out our Ethicurean questionnaire.
Nosher of the North has lived in Montreal all his life, as did his parents and grandparents before him. He was a restaurant critic for the Montreal Mirror for a few years in the late '90s and has contributed his writing and photography to various publications in print and on the Web. He is interested in eating a lot of good food in a healthy way, which led him to become an Ethicurean. He also contributes to a blog about breakfast, which can be found here. If you feed him, he will come.
A visit to Jean-Talon Market
Montreal has four regular public markets, but really only two are considered full-out farmers markets: Jean-Talon Market and Atwater Market. The other two are fairly small and I don’t think there are any actual farmers selling things at them. I live fairly close to Jean-Talon Market, which is in Little Italy, and I usually try to do as much shopping there as I can. I do have a car, but for environmental and health (and parking) reasons, my Very Special Ladyfriend and I bike to the market in the warmer months, from April to October.
Last week we visited the Jean-Talon market with my camera, so I can show you kind folks what we have up here in the great white north. In the summertime, the farmers set up in outdoor stalls just as you’d expect in any farmers market, and we get a great variety of fruits (especially berries), vegetables, and plants. In the winter the market is much smaller and the vendors set up inside a barracks-style building that was built just three or four years ago to accommodate its growing popularity.
Besides the fruit and vegetable vendors who sell a combination of regional and imported produce, Jean-Talon Market also has many stalls and shops that sell meat, eggs, cheese, and a slew of other assorted goods, even a cookbook store that — frustratingly to us English cooks — only sells French-language cookbooks.
During the winter months the produce is largely imported, as few crops flourish in our sub-zero temperatures. This week we were pounded with a brutal snowstorm, and today the temperature dropped to -24 Celsius, or -13 Fahrenheit to Americans. The only local/regional fruits or vegetables available in the winter months are things like apples, potatoes, cabbage, beets, etc. — basically anything that can be stored for several weeks or months. At some farmers markets, like the ones usually gracing the cyberspace of this blog, vendors can only sell produce that they grow. The rules have to be bent in these arctic climates, otherwise we’d have some pretty dismal markets in the cold winter months.
I have thought long and hard about how I shouldn’t be eating fruits and vegetables that are shipped in from faraway places, and still haven’t completely come to peace with it, but I do eat a lot fewer exotic fruits and vegetables than I used to. Baby steps…baby steps.
On this particular trip to the market, my VSL and I picked up pears, eggs, pork chops, bacon, cheese, and bee pollen.
The Anjou pears were from the USA, and sadly, were not organic. The little stickers on the pears said “Stemilt” and not much else, so I visited the website and saw that these pears were either from Stockton, California, or Wenatchee, Washington — well over 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) away from Montreal. Many of the fruit vendors put out plates of samples and, sometimes, as we are strolling by, we grab a bite of almost perfectly ripe pear or some other delicious fruit or vegetable, and we are sold — organic or not. I am relatively new to this, and I never claim to be wholly organic and local, but I am trying my best. The pears were delicious, but I do feel guilty.
We were told that the eggs we bought were ‘organic’ by the old man who sold them to us. They cost us slightly less than $3 Canadian per dozen, cheaper than most organic eggs in Montreal. Certified organic eggs, which are granted their status by the OCIA (possibly the same body that certifies eggs and other products throughout North America?), usually cost about $5 per dozen in grocery stores. In the summer we get our eggs — under the radar — for $4 per dozen from my CSA, so we don’t understand how this guy can sell them so cheaply.
Maybe they aren't certified organic, I thought, but they're probably raised on a small family farm and therefore I can trust that they are pure, healthy eggs.
I always want to talk to the old guy about where his eggs are from and how the chickens are raised, but there are usually too many people milling about to ask any questions. This week it was relatively quiet (it was 11 a.m. on a Wednesday) and so we asked a few questions, but he didn’t really seem interested in our questions, so we let it go for now. This egg vendor is pretty old and his mother-tongue doesn’t seem to be English or French, so maybe he just doesn’t understand my questions. Or, maybe he is just lying, because his younger coworker (and possible relative) didn’t say a word, but kept his gaze worlds away from my penetrating, truth-seeking eyes. His eggs taste great, and they look and crack like fresh, organic eggs, so I always bought them. I haven’t given up on this issue, and will return to ask more questions.
The pork chops and bacon were bought from ‘PorcMeilleur,’ which translates as “best pork” and is a family-run farm from the Maskoutan region. Their pigs are fed a mixture of 60% grains and 40% milk and yogurt — and they use absolutely no growth hormones or antibiotics. The bacon cooked up great — dark and crispy — most definitely better than the bacon found in regular grocery stores, which I never buy. I haven’t tried the chops yet.
There are two or three cheesemongers in the market, and all three carry an assortment of imported and regional cheeses. We shop at Fromagerie Hamel and try to buy regional cheese, but we also buy some French and Swiss varieties, even though we shouldn’t due to the amount of jet fuel that gets used to ship these cheeses to North America. We already had some great blue and a chevre in our fridge, so we got a hunk of three-year Comté, which we love for its slightly sharp and nutty character.
I always walk by this particular beef vendor without making a purchase, mostly because I just don’t really seem to be eating much beef these days. The vendor has this sign displayed in front of his stall, which basically says:
Raised with respect, in the traditional manner of my father and my grandfather. No hormones or medications, and fed on what we grow on our farm – our grain and our hay. No GMOs, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, in the respect of nature.
My Very Special Ladyfriend, who used to be a vegetarian and is now a born-again omnivore, is still re-introducing different meats into her diet. She loves bacon and sausages and eats some chicken, but she just isn’t ready to be tearing up hunks of burnt animal flesh with her teeth and then swallowing them. Maybe one day, when she’s good and ready, we will get us some beef and braise it, or grill it, or smoke it, and beef will be back in our diet; still, I don’t really miss it.
Now for the bee pollen. Even though the VSL has decided to start eating meat again, I feel that she is not getting enough protein required to maintain a healthy body, and therefore I want to find some sort of supplement to fill the gap. Lately I’ve been reading about bee pollen and its many benefits, including the fact that it is high in protein.
With this in mind, we hunted down bee pollen at three different stalls specializing in honey and honey-related products. The pollen we chose was not only the least expensive of the three but looked the most interesting as the nuggets were all different shades of yellow and brown — the other bags contained nuggets that were all the same uniform pale yellow. I will do some more research and let you know more about bee pollen as I figure it out.
Well, that’s it for my first online visit to Jean-Talon Market in Montreal, Canada. I hope to bring you many reports on how things are up here — from an Ethicurean standpoint, naturally.
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