Letter from Montreal: A visit to Jean-Talon Market

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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.

m_snow.jpgLast 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.

m_apples.jpgBesides 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.

m_fruit.jpgI 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.

m_eggs.jpgWe 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.

m_cheese.jpgThere 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.

m_pork.jpgI 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.

Nice.

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.

m_beepollen.jpgNow 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.

18 Responsesto “Letter from Montreal: A visit to Jean-Talon Market”

  1. Ross says:

    I bought eggs from the same guy when I lived near Jean Talon. Not sure about his scruples, they never gave me correct change once in 4 months. But I didn't care so much, the eggs were great.

  2. Alexia Cirigliano says:

    When I went to Montreal last time, I went to the Jean-Talon market, specifically to see what they hype was about, and to get some cheese made with unpasturized milk which was aged less than 60 days, which you can't get in the good ol' USA. I bought myself a nice runny Quebecois cheese and ate a ridiculous amount of it in less than an hour. I loved the market. I like Atwater Market too, but it was a little more crowded.

  3. Peabody says:

    My wife lived right next to Jean Talon market for a while in a teeny apartment when we first started going out. We used to get our eggs there..

  4. Susymac says:

    I really miss Montréal and the Jean Talon Market. I live in the Netherlands now...almost 6 years and am now really used to neat, twice-weekly farmer's markets in every little town. But nothing comes close to Montréal...ripe summer plum tomatoes, all those peppers snuggled up together, fresh shiny fruits and quirky little shops. What excitement to the senses!
    miss it!miss it! miss it!!

  5. brad says:

    I love the Jean-Talon market and get most of my food there. The organic beef place is excellent, and they also sell chicken (usually frozen), turkey, sausages, and other meats. Porc Meilleur is great too, and there are two good fish shops. There are some great specialty shops, including an Eastern European charcuterie with incredible bacon and sausages, a good spice store, the best ice cream shop you'll find in town, and two very good health food stores. You can find bread from arguably the city's best bakery, Le Fromentier, at Qui Lait Cru (a nice jeu de mots, they mostly sell raw-milk cheese).

    My only complaint about the winter stock of produce is that it's impossible to find kale. I have a friend who works with farmers throughout Québec and he says it's just not a green that people here are in the habit of eating, so nobody grows it. What a shame...I love kale-and-potato soup and I've actually had to pick up kale in Vermont on my way home from trips there in order to satisfy my addiction!

  6. Danièle M. says:

    Nosher, I get my veggies from the same CSA as you, Ferme Cadet-Roussel, but I also take the winter basket and I keep buying my eggs from them until the end of the winter season. You could probably go to the «point de chute» on delivery days (every second week) and buy eggs and other products there even if you don't have the winter baskets. Thanks for this article, it is very interesting.

    Brad, «my» farmer grows kale and I get it often in my vegetable basket (CSA), but only in summer. And it's true that many people put the kale in the «exchange basket» and get something else instead because they don't like it or don't know what to do with it. Too bad for them, it's full of vitamins...

  7. Nosher of the North says:

    I appreciate all the comments - I'd love it if all the Canadians and Montrealers who read the Ethicurean would chime in here or email me to let me know that you are out there! Thanks!

    Ross,
    Thanks for the comment.

    Alexia,
    Where do you live? I usually try to find good local dn hopefully unpasteurized cheese wherever I am...

    Peabody,
    You know I love you - when are you coming to Montreal for brunch?

    Susymac,
    I was in the Netherlands last year and had a great time in many farmers markets. Can you not get good local vegetables in almost every season over there?

    Brad,
    I have no trouble finding kale in Montreal, but this time of year it all seems to be from Mexico.

    Daniele,
    Please let me know what veggies you get in the winter basket. I was considering it and then it was too late so I just let it go. I will definitely pass by and get some eggs - is it this week or next?
    PS - I never put my kale in the exchange basket.

  8. brad says:

    Wow, that's good news about the kale, maybe I'm just looking in the wrong places. I did find some organic kale once at Le Tournesol (small health-food store on Fleury in Ahuntsic), but I don't think I've seen it at the J-T market ever. But I tend to frequent only the smaller stands there, not the big ones that get their produce from the same places the supermarkets do. I'm going to the market this afternoon so will see if I can find any...a good kale and potato soup would be perfect for a cold spell like this.

  9. brad says:

    Hey, actually I have a question for other Montréalers here: most of my cookbooks are in English, and sometimes I'm not sure of the names of cuts of meat or types of fish in French. I'm not really fluent but do my shopping, banking, and other errands entirely in French as a way to help me keep improving. Does anyone know where I can find a list of cuts of meat with their names in English and the corresponding names we use in Québec? Larousse isn't much help in that regard. I've learned some of them (bavette=skirt steak, jarrets d'agneau=lamb shanks, etc.), but not all. Same goes for fish...I use the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide to sustainable seafood but am not always sure what the French name is for some of the more unusual species (monkfish, etc.). Thanks.

  10. SK says:

    Hi! Good work in the Market. Just two things to say:

    #1) Yes, those eggs! No certification and not even a nice sign like that beef guy. These guys are just opportunists, a mon avis. See the sheer volume of eggs they bring every day. This is a big farem. These eggs are not organic and what's more, there is nothing to say they are even "free range" (in our sadly limited modern meaning).
    Of all things, it is the battery=farmed egg that needs avoidance. I came to the conclusion that as these guys were so unforthcoming that I would be better paying the extra money and getting the certified eggs instead.
    I think these guys are just there so long that the modern organic movement just grew up around them and they are cashing in. Seriously, if they were on the level, they would have banners showing it.

    2)The Pork; yes it is absolutely gorgeous and definitely the best pork available in Montreal, from an additives point of view. Thing is...those pigs still dont get to go and run around a field. I know, cos I asked. If a pif gets sick, it is allowed outside until it clears up naturally. This, I applaud. But in general, a pig that doesnt get sick will be born, reared, live and die in a large barn. This is not good. If you can find a better pork product please let me know as I love pork.

    Keep up the good work,

    SK

  11. Nosher of the North says:

    Brad,

    I was at the JT market this morning and did a thoruogh search - there is no kale.
    I think I saw some Mexican kale this week, at Sakaris Brothers - on St.Laurent near Marie-Anne.
    This week I had some great organic collard greens from Bioterre on St-Viateur and they were fantatstic - maybe you should think about trying some other kale-like greens...

    SK,
    I don't necessarily need my eggs to be certified. In fact, if I can find eggs from a small farm (hopefully family owned and operated) then I would prefer that. I don't just buy this old guy's regular eggs - He has a very small sign pointing out that he sells some organic eggs which are slightly more expensive then his regular eggs. I would not want him to have a banner or everyone would buy them from him and he would sell out too quickly. This is the reason I
    am not writing about him or other small egg vendors in a newspaper like the Gazette - the supply is not yet ready to meet the demand should it skyrocket from too much publicity.

    Also -Thanks for the heads up on PorcMeilleur. After reading that Rolling Stone article on Smithfield Pork I have seriously decided that I will never again buy regular pork in the grocery store or butcher shop unless I know of its origins.

  12. Danièle M. says:

    Hello again. I answered you by e-mail but in case anybody else would like to know, last week, in my winter basket from Cadet-Roussel (small size), I got carrots (a lot), sunflower sprouts, endives, beets, potatoes, turnips, red onions, celeriac and garlic. Other vegetables in winter baskets, some other weeks : Jerusalem artichokes, squash, cabbage, beans (including flageolets), parsnip, dried tomatoes, leek. And they sell flour, eggs, apple juice (maybe some other things). A woman (not from Cadet-Roussel) comes at the Mission Mile-End delivery to sell goat cheeses and lavender-goat milk soaps.

  13. SK says:

    Hi Again!

    Just to say I totally agree about small sources of uncertified eggs; like eggs from my Mum in fact! No certification required! And it is better to buy local like that for sure.
    Thing is, this guy is selling some organic eggs or eggs from some "walked about" chickens and thats fantastic. BUT!! by buying those eggs, you are also indirectly supporting the method of production for his regular eggs. ie- If the regular eggs are battery farmed, by buying from him at all, you are supporting those too.

    Now that sounds like an accusation, it's not, it's a horrible, horrible fine line we are required to walk on every item we buy. Who knows? The certified egg producers whose eggs are in my local shop, that I buy, might also have shares in a nasty pig farm that isnt remotely organic. etc. So. All I am saying it is a nightmare for all us consumers and we do well to even attempt to incorporate these thoughts into our shopping!!

    Hurrah for us!

  14. Alexia Cirigliano says:

    Hey,
    I live in the good ol'USA, in Massachusetts, and there is this stupid ruling the FDA passed about raw milk cheese and unpasturized cheese- the whole thing is ludicrus. So, although I pine to be Canadian (especially because of this whole Bush thing going on down here) I have to satisfy myself with my once or twice yearly trips across the border. I'm going to Toronto in July- any suggestions?

  15. Man of La Muncha says:

    Brad,
    You can view French and English versions of meat diagrams at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's website. Go to http://www.inspection.gc.ca/english/fssa/labeti/mcmancv/mcmancve.shtml to see the English version, and note the links for Beef, Lamb, Pork and other animals at the bottom. On any of the pages - which include diagrams - you can click the Francais/English link at the top-left of the page to switch between English and French. It might take some printing and a bit of work, but you could create a notebook of the information.

  16. brad says:

    Perfecto! (er, well, Parfait!) Thanks for that.

  17. Venusia says:

    New to this blog and to ethical eating, after reading The Omnivore's Dilemna by Pollan, The Way We Eat by Singer, What to Eat by Nestle and Secret Ingredients (forgot the author).

    SK:
    Ricardo has a little video on his show website on an organic pork producer whose pigs are let out to pasture in what seems to me an idyllic pastoral setting: http://www.foodtv.ca/ricardoandfriends/videos.aspx#videoWindow
    It's called Les viandes biologiques de Charlevoix http://www.viandesbiocharlevoix.com/a_distributeurs.htm
    Haven't sampled them yet, I started getting my meat from Ferme le Crepuscule.

  18. Rose says:

    I just moved to Montreal yesterday, and checked out the Jean Talon market. I must admit I was overwhelmed. I had a hard time finding anything organic or local. Maybe it is just too early still? In Pennsylvania, where I'm from, the farmer's markets are just starting up, but only have a few spring items, frozen berries from the previous summer, and root vegetables from the previous fall. I was expecting something similar at Jean Talon, but instead I found row after row of fruit and vegetables from Mexico, South America, Europe, and the states. I only saw a few signs on the carrots and some rutabagas that said "Quebec" and nothing that said organic. Can anyone give me some advice on how to seek out the local/organic at this market in the future?