Yes, We Can (Find Local Food At The French Market)
Not too long ago, Chicago took steps towards a permanent indoor farmer’s market with the opening of the Chicago French Market, adjacent to the Ogilvie Transportation Center. Its website states that “Chicago French Market came about with the movement in America to support local farmers and artisans and bring back the European-inspired marketplace — providing you with year-round, permanent access to their local bounty.” If supporting local farmers is one of Chicago French Market’s stated goals, then I think it has some ways to go; it is easy to empathize with detractors who claim that the market is not serious about local food. That is especially true if you enter from the commuter concourse (as opposed to the street) and the first produce vendor you encounter offers such nonlocal food as oranges and avocados. But, even now, just on the cusp of Spring and before our main growing season, you can still find local food at Chicago French Market — with a little digging.
Among the myriad bakeries, meat markets and prepared food vendors, you can find local fish, meat, cheese, wine, some produce, and locally-crafted foods, such as jam and charcuterie. As for the produce, I’m reassured by some of the vendors that local produce will soon start to eclipse the nonlocal produce as we move into the Midwest’s major growing season.
Here’s what I found during one recent visit:
- Produce Express Company (in the middle of the market) carries “Illinois Grown” produce. I noticed that (unlike a recent debacle involving Dominick’s), signs advertising “Illinois Grown” seemed to be carefully placed near produce that would naturally be local to Illinois this time of year (like squash and potatoes). I inquired of the vendor as to the exact identity of the purportedly local producers, but he could not give me specifics on the spot. He did say that they were careful to place their signs only near food that they knew to be actually locally grown, and that they were in the process of compiling and displaying a map that would identify the sources of their produce for their customers. They also told me that their philosophy for sourcing produce is that “closest is best,” although, when necessary, they will source food from further locales.Chicago Organics (on the North side of the market) occasionally offers squash from Indiana, Food for Thought jams and salsas from Michigan, and Farmer’s Creamery milk (Iowa). The vendor expects to carry more local product in the coming weeks.
Cheese and Wine
- Pastoral (located at the West end of the market) sells mostly cheese, wine and sandwiches . If you’re looking for local cheese, Pastoral offers Prairie Fruits Farm cheese (Illinois), Antigo Italian-style cheeses (Wisconsin), the goat cheese stalwarts, Capriole (Indiana), and Widmer’s cheese (Wisconsin). Pastoral also carries L. Mawby’s Blanc de Blanc and Blanc de Noir sparkling wines (Michigan), Good Harbor Trillium white wine (Michigan), and Death’s Door Gin, Vodka and white Whiskey (Wisconsin).If you thought Wisconsin Cheese Mart (in the middle of the market) would be a good place to find local cheese, you would be correct. As the name suggests, it offers virtually all varieties of cheese from such Wisconsin makers as Carr Valley, Pleasant Ridge, Henning’s, Maple Leaf, Sartori, and Dante (a sheep‘s milk cheese made from a Wisconsin sheep dairy cooperative). They even offer Wisconsin-made Potter’s crackers to go with the Wisconsin cheese.
Meats and Fish
- City Fresh/La Marée Seafood (Southwest end of the market) occasionally carries White Perch from Lake Michigan.City Fresh offers Miller’s Farm chickens from Indiana.
- If your idea of local food extends to that which is crafted locally, Fumare (North side of the market) carries sausages and charcuterie crafted by local producers, such as Ream’s Elburn Market in Elburn, Illinois. Fumare told me that all of its products are crafted locally.City Fresh carries Usinger’s sausages (Wisconsin), Bobak’s wieners and head cheese (Illinois) and Bende & Son Hungarian Brand products (Illinois).Gramp’s Gourmet Foods (Illinois)offers its own locally-made pickles for sale.
Have I missed anything? Has anyone else spied local food at the French Market?
Chicago French Market
131 N. Clinton
Chicago, IL 60661
M-Fri. 7 am – 7:30 pm
Sat. 8 am – 6 pm