Travel Eats: Dane County Farmers Market

One thing I have been doing more of this summer is taking advantage of local farmers markets. If you're local to the Chicagoland area, the Green City Market is where to go. It's situated across the street from the [free] Lincoln Park Zoo and boasts numerous food stands scattered throughout the farmers market.

However, if you wouldn't mind driving a bit further north to Madison, Wisconsin, you will be in Farmer's Market Heaven. The Dane County Farmers Market is the largest producer-only farmers market in the United States. In the summer, there are roughly 150 vendors that line the streets around the Capital building, better known as Capital Square. Everything from fruits, vegetables, honey, flowers, popcorn, meats, cheeses, nuts and specialty products are available. Non-food vendors are also are available. It's definitely a farmers market to check out in the Midwest! 

TIP #1 - Bring a tote bag and plan a visit as early as you can in the morning. This is when the least amount of people and crowds will be present. Another bonus is that you may get the best picks before the hoards of crowds come through. Melissa and I drove out to Madison, WI on a Friday afternoon and stayed overnight so we can wake up early and hit the market. We made a half-weekend of the trip, allowing us to explore and enjoy some of the great food found in Madison. Saturday morning, we woke up bright and early and headed to the market around 7am. At that point, it was a leisurely walk around the square without feeling like a sardine while dodging kids, baby strollers, pets and slow pokes.

On my latest visit, I loved the colorful displays of fruits and vegetables. Many of the vendors often sell similar products - which makes sense since everything is in season. You'll notice how the prices may vary slightly from vendor to vendor - namely for the weight, size, quality, etc. TIP #2: Spend the time to walk around the entire square FIRST to check out what's available, what looks good and the best price for you. Take note of what piques your interest and pay attention to the pricing and quality as you walk by vendors selling those same items. Don't forget to sample along the way, as there are a lot to sample if you'd like! This would also be a good time to check if a vendor you're interested in buying from accepts cash, credit or both. 

TIP #3 - After your first walk around the square, now it's time to get serious. Hit up an ATM for cash (if needed) and start filling up your bag with goodies. I thought my tote bag was too big at first, but by the time I did the second lap around the square, I soon realized how small it was. Perhaps it was a good thing - it prevented me from buying more than I needed! I did experience some bummer moments on my second lap when I realized some of the stuff I wanted to buy from a vendor was gone. It's a risk, but use your best judgement!

The last tip, is especially important. TIP #4 - Complete your trip to the Dane County Farmers Market by snagging some Hot & Spicy Cheese Bread from Stella's. This bread is a must at the market and it's no surprise mostly everyone has a loaf in their hand. So what's the draw? The slighty sweet dough is made with chunks of cheese and dotted with spicy red pepper flakes. Once baked, flavors meld together and it is purely addictive! Stay tuned... this will be a recipe I'm recreating this fall!