STIR IT UP
With Mawa McQueen
There’s a reason they don’t call The Aspen Saturday Market a “farmer’s” market. ”Over the last 10 years, the Aspen Saturday Market has grown exponentially, now occupying three out of four streets on a city block. The ratio of farmed goods has also dwindled as artisans, local businesses and even realtors have acquired booths and are pedaling everything from handmade hats to yoga hot shorts. And the price is not always right—if you’re going to pay a premium, you better be sure the products are worth the price. The smell of roasting chili peppers and kettle corn wafting through the air on a crisp fall day might cloud your judgment, but just know you don’t always get what you pay for.
“You come here to support local businesses,” Mawa says. “Or if you have a special occasion and want to go the extra mile to create something special.”
There are still some wonderful organic farmers and ranchers, but it takes a skillful eye, a trained nose, and some advanced planning to navigate the streets of Aspen, where all that glitters will cost you its weight in gold.
Here are five tips from Chef Mawa for how to do the Aspen Saturday Market right:
The Nose Knows
“Let the small call you,” Mawa says. “The best way to measure how something is going to taste is by how it smells.” This is especially true of fresh produce. One of the advantages of going to a farmers market versus the supermarket is the produce is able to ripen more before it is harvested, and travel a much shorter distance. “When produce is ripe, and when it’s good, the smell should be very strong. Only then should you buy it.”
Have A Game Plan
“I can’t walk five feet without running into someone I know. So if I want to shop instead of socialize, I’ll come very early in the morning so I’m not distracted,” Mawa says. She also creates a list and tries to stay focused about what it is she needs. “Otherwise, you’ll see the cash fly out of your wallet faster than you can imagine and you get home and go, ‘what the heck did I just buy?’”’
Two For The Money, Two For The Show
“You have to understand, shopping here is 50% for your health and 50% for the community,” Mawa says. Because the Aspen Saturday Market isn’t the most economical, it’s really about providing your family with the freshest, locally sourced foods and supporting the local businesses that come here. But if you want to find a bargain, this isn’t the place. “We’d all eat like this all the time if we could afford it.”
Get To Know Your Vendors
One of the best things about the market is the opportunity to get to know some of the vendors and their products over the course of a season. “I have a handful of vendors I’ve gotten to know and really love,” Mawa says. “It’s nice to have that personal connection. Now the product itself takes on deeper meaning, because you know the story behind it. That’s something you can’t get at the City Market.”
-High Wire Ranch has the best elk and bison tenderloin. You can’t get fresher wild game or better cuts anywhere else. I like to go the last week and buy whatever they have and stick it the freezer so I have a lasting supply.
-Don’t miss the handmade balsamic vinegars at Westwood Farms. I love the blackberry variety but they have many flavors to choose from. Sometimes a special ingredient like that can make a whole dish.
-I’m a huge fan of Avalanche Cheese Company and they’re right here in Basalt. The cheddar goat cheese is my favorite, but they also happen to have amazing, fresh baked bread, which is not easy to do at altitude.
-It’s little spendy, but you get what you pay for with the raw Cacao Granola from True Nature in Carbondale. I’m going to try to copy that recipe!
–Rock Bottom Ranch is my favorite organic produce provider. Located in Carbondale, they’re definitely the closest farm and they have amazing sustainable gardening and ranching practices. If you get a chance, take a free tour—they offer one every single day at 11 a.m. You’ll really get a sense of what they do and it will make you appreciate their food more!
-I love the raw honey from Aspen Honey Farm, even if I can’t really distinguish the flavors of their different varieties. It is the best, freshest honey I have tasted in Colorado. Definitely another good one to stock up on for the winter!