Regional Farmers Market Report: Montreal, Quebec

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From Kevin in Montreal: This past weekend I headed up to the Jean-Talon market in Montreal (7075 Casgrain Ave). It's a permanent open air market with daily outdoor stalls set up from spring to late fall, and a few stalls set up indoors all winter long.

The market is in the heart of Montreal's Little Italy neighborhood, and many of the surrounding shops specialize in artisanal Italian products. The market and the neighborhood are increasingly multiethnic, and this is the place to go for hard to find specialty items from all around the world, particularly North Africa.

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Between the organic butchers, the best fishmonger in the city, and le marché des saveurs du Québec which sells only products made in Quebec it's worth a trip even without the stalls. The heart of the market is of course the farmers, bringing in a huge variety of fresh produce daily, most of it from within 100 km of Montreal.

About one third of the stalls specialize in organic produce, and that proportion is growing every year. It's a boisterous, colourful, and casual place. The crowd is an energetic mix of foodies looking for the best and the freshest, old folks who've been browsing the stalls since before it was hip, families, and young people out for a weekend afternoon in the sun.

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This is a wonderful time to be a food lover in Montreal; we're having an unnaturally long summer with great weather lingering into October. The market was loaded with summer fruit and vegetables, and the heartier fall vegetables have shown up as well.

We saw fall harvest strawberries which tasted as sweet as July, the very last of the corn, leeks, cauliflower, cucumber, zucchini, beans, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, cranberries, blueberries, pears and even some plums and melons which should have been finished weeks ago. The winter squash have arrived along with potatoes, onions, turnips, beets, and scads of apples.

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Next Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving, almost two months before the American version. Right now we're enjoying the incredible bounty the end of summer has to offer, but our leaves have started to turn, and it won't be long before we get frost at night.

The arguments for eating local are compelling, but when you live in Quebec that means a lot of preserving before winter. Couples with sacks full of eggplants strung between them were everywhere. My brother walked out of the market with 40 lbs of tomatoes to turn into sauce, and I came home with a 20 lb crate of red peppers. My apartment kitchen has turned into an impromptu pickling factory.

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I also made a stop by the local organic butcher and picked up some chicken wings. I don't often splurge on organic chicken, but wings are cheap even when they're organic. They were so much meatier and more flavourful than the factory farmed version that I'm never looking back.

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I also popped into the cheesemonger's for a creamy blue Sainte-Augur, and some Baita Friuli, which is like a Parmesan-cheddar hybrid. As long as I had the cheese I decided on a few juicy Bartlett pears to serve along with them.

Altogether we made a wonderful afternoon of it. We munched our way through taste testers at the stalls, and picked up a couple of Italian sausage sandwiches with sauerkraut and mustard. Then we shared a cup of gelato for good measure. What a perfect way to enjoy a warm and sunny day at the end of September.

Thank you Kevin! Be sure to check out Kevin's own blog, too - he's blogging through the entire Gourmet cookbook at The Gourmet Project!

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