· La Cigale Market in Auckland
Our first stop was in Auckland at the La Cigale French Market in the tony Parnell neighborhood. La Cigale is a Francophile emporium of European comestibles and home goods during the week, but, on the weekends, its parking lot turns into an exuberant farmers market from 8:00am-1:30pm on Saturdays and 9:00am-1:30pm Sundays.
While we were meandering among the booths, squeezing the spring’s first fresh fruit and veggies, we spied huge oysters harvested from nearby waters, munched on homemade bread and pastries, and tasted all manner of smoked meats and handcrafted cheeses; everything is sourced from around New Zealand’s North Island. There were also freshly butchered cuts of meat, smoked salmon and fresh fish and seafood, macadamia nuts, hand-rolled pasta, and more. Wander a bit further to find French wines, a crepe stand, and a coffee counter where folks line up around the corner for a flat white.
La Cigale has been hosting its weekend markets for a few years now, inspired by the Provençal markets the owners experienced and loved in the south of France. Many of the merchants have been there since the beginning, though you will find different ones there depending on what’s in season.
· Central Otago Farmers’ Market
On the other end of NZ is the Central Otago Farmers’ Market, deep in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island. Though the area is a young wine region fast becoming recognized for its world-class Pinot Noirs, it is still first and foremost an agricultural region specializing in stone fruits.
On Sundays from 9:00am-1:00pm from October-February, you’ll find the restored historic precinct of the 19th-century gold rush town of Old Cromwell, its streets bustling with local farmers and artisan producers peddling gourmet products all sourced and made on the South Island.
We spent a good hour ambling through the little main square where vendors had set up their stalls. We sampled the first Earlise cherries of the season at Morton’s Cherries, then dipped and dabbed in various oils, mustards, jams and syrups at Wild Thyme Gourmet and Cairnmuir Olives, and the fruit preserves by Tavish’s Kitchen. Do not miss the Gibbston Valley Cheese and hot smoked salmon from Stewart Island at Just Fish, and, even if you can't take it home to prepare, you must see the juicy cuts of local meat at Cardrona Merino Lamb. Finally, it was time for a cup of specialty loose-leaf tea at Stir Tea, then a stroll through the permanent shops in town like Vintage, which sells handmade jewelry, stonework and other crafts.
Just as menus across New Zealand have become more sophisticated, seasonal and locally focused, so too has the farmers’ market scene. Visiting some of these markets during a trip to New Zealand is a great way to find out more about where all the delicious foods you’re eating actually come from, and to and meet the people who produce them.
Full disclosure: Eric Rosen traveled to New Zealand as a guest of Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand, but all photos and opinions here are entirely his own.
[Photos: Eric Rosen]