Napa: Farmers' markets of St. Helena and Calistoga
Road Journals Blog—Underneath all the chi chi trappings, the Napa Valley is still working farm country, with small growers and the workshops of artisanal purveyors dotted across its rolling hills.
This is perhaps the most authentic side of Napa, and there is no better way to access it than at the local farmers’ markets. I particularly like those in St. Helena and Calistoga, at the northern end of the valley.
They haven’t made it onto most tourists' itineraries, as evidenced by the huge numbers who speed past without even knowing they’re there. The St. Helena market is located in Crane Park, hidden a few blocks off the north-south artery of Highway 29, while the Calistoga market is in the plaza of the little-known Sharpsteen Museum of Calistoga History.
It’s too bad, because these markets are where you can taste the artisanal cheeses served at famed restaurants like The French Laundry and Bistro Jeanty while discussing flavors, textures, and recipes with the cheesemakers themselves. The St. Helena market features demonstrations by local chefs; the day I was there, Sheamus Feeley of Farmstead was showing off his grilling technique using Crane Park’s barbecue.
Cookbook authors do signings at these market, so there are frequent chances to learn something new.
In addition to standard fare of fresh fruits and veggies, these two Napa Valley locations have stands selling some of the more obscure specialty ingredients used by many of the region’s world-famous chefs. These include exotic mushrooms, micro-greens, and a bounty of fresh herbs, including starter plants; I left with everything I needed to plant my own herb garden.
Since the Napa Valley is ground zero for wine-lovers and foodies, it’s not surprising that specialty producers showcase at these markets. On a recent visit, my favorite booths were those selling artisanal products not available in stores, such as smoke-enhanced olive oil from The Smoked Olive, made by a secret process that’s already garnered its makers a mention in InStyle magazine.
Agnes Pease, owner of the Napa Valley Tea Company, blends her teas by hand, giving them clever names like Divinitea, Serenitea and Wild Monkey Marsala. She uses locally sourced ingredients, including wine essences and dried fruits and berries, and offers tastes of her latest combos. On hot days, locals stop by for cups of ice cold “Napa Valley Seven,” a white tea flavored with seven healthful Asian herbs including gotu kola, and “Vitalitea,” a green tea with the zest of lemon and hibiscus.
St. Helena Farmers' Market: Fridays 7:30 a.m. to noon, May through October; Crane Park (intersection of Crane and Grayson Avenues).
Calistoga Farmers' Market: Saturdays 8:30 a.m. to noon, May through October; Sharpsteen Museum plaza.
For more on the Napa Valley, see VIAmagazine.com’s package on the area.
This blog post was first published in April 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.